The Baby Cog: Possibilities for Collaboration between Theology and Artificial Intelligence

Anne Foerst
MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

Science and theology generally conduct research independent from each other without any mutual exchange. The possibility for mutual enrichment is often thwarted because of different and exclusive worldviews which are---mostly subconsciously---held by people working in both fields.

I will show to what extent this coexistence of ``Two Cultures'' (C.P. Snow) can be overcome. To avoid superficiality, I will concentrate on one project: Cog, the humanoid robot, currently underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT AI-Lab). The robot Cog is developed in analogy to a human infant and shall become equal to a six months old baby. The Cog research pursues two goals: First, to create a prototype general purpose, flexible, and dextrous autonomous robot, and second, to study human development after birth.

All hopes and fears usually associated with AI are collected in this project. Within the research team one can find the motif of hubris, the fascination of the possibility to re-build ourselves and to be god-like. On the other hand, opponents often show the contrary reaction which Isaac Asimov might call "Frankenstein complex" --- the fear that Cog one day will revolt against its creators and do them harm. I will briefly describe these contrary emotions and will show that they arise out of different assumptions; these assumptions create incompatible worldviews and their representatives hold different anthropologies, i.e. different understandings of themselves. I will demonstrate that these independent worldviews are epistemologically circular and intrinsically equal.

The sentences of belief and hidden assumptions within the Cog project can be compared to elements of religious faith. Christian faith in revelation and the symbol that humans are created in the image of God can then be made acceptable within a scientific concept when put into a certain framework which I will call Transcendental Theology. This concept relies on John L.\ Austin, Karl Rahner, J\"{u}rgen Moltmann, and Paul Tillich and enables people from this theological camp to integrate the tension of faith and doubt into their research and, therefore, to become able to accept the eligibility of the other side.

Building up on this theological concept, I will be presenting a framework for dialogue which allows people from both fields to analyze their {\em own} assumptions and beliefs. This framework is intended to prevent people in both the scientific and the theological camp from adopting absolutistic conceptions of truth which are, accordingly, dogmatic. At the same time, I will argue against the move toward relativism. The framework I will develop will give perspectives on how to merge scientific insights and those from theology while preserving their integrity, and further enables people from these respective disciplines to create mutual enriching dialogue. I will finally highlight my theory of possible mutual enrichment with concrete examples from the research on Cog.

Copyright © Anne Foerst