“Will Robots Have Souls?” – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

“Will Robots Have Souls?”

Hobart and William Smith Colleges Sponsor Third Annual Lecture
on Science and Religion

October 23, 2000 Geneva, NY – For the past eight years, researchers at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have attempted to build humanoid robots modeled after human infants. Two robots, named Cog and Kismet, were built under the assumption that human intelligence is the result of several factors such as embodiment, social interaction, and learning from early childhood until death.

Anne Foerst, a research scientist and theologian at MIT, will talk about Cog and Kismet at a public lecture titled “Will Robots Have Souls” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 5, at the Trinity Episcopal Church, 520 South Main St., Geneva. The lecture is sponsored by Hobart and William Smith Colleges through a grant from the Sir John Templeton Foundation, which supports the study of science and religion. Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Francis and St. Stephen's Roman Catholic churches are also aiding in presenting the discussion. The talk is free and the public is welcome. The lecture will be followed by an open discussion and refreshments will be served.

Foerst says humans can't help but react to Cog and Kismet on an emotional level and these interactions and emotions raise questions. Can these robots ever be like humans? If so, does this mean that humans ultimately are nothing but machines? What then, is the soul? Do humans have one? Will at some point robots have one, too? Foerst will also discuss from a theological perspective what concepts like ‘soul' and ‘dignity' mean in the Biblical context.

Foerst is also the director of the CTNS Religion and Science Course Program for the Northeast region. In addition, she is the contributing editor of Spirituality & Health magazine, the director of God and Computers Project at MIT, and a research associate at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on three books God and Computers: What a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (MIT Press, 2001), On Robots and Humans…and God (Columbia University Press, 2001), and Stories We Tell: the Mythos-Logos Dialectic as New Methodology for the Dialogue between Religion and Science (2001). She is the author of Artificial Intelligence and Theology: From Mythos to Logos and Back (Indiana University Press, 2000).
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