Humanity at the Crossroads?

Contemplative Practice & AI / Modern Technologies 

In light of the exponential growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and the digitalization of our lives and cultures, a series of questions arise for man and the planet

There is a need for a deeper understanding of three main topics that will guide our common future:

  1. The essence, needs and possibilities of the human being
  2. The essence and possibilities of technology
  3. The relationship between man and technology

The conference will focus on our possibilities and responsibilities as human beings for the course of the ongoing evolution. A special area of interest will be the concern for future generations. Which human qualities do children and adolescents need to thrive in tomorrows´ sophisticated technological world?

The conference aims to clarify the premises for a humane and sustainable development in light of the ongoing technological revolution within bio-, info-, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI).  

Target groups: People in psychology/healthcare, education, technology, business, culture and public policy.

The format of the conference will be plenary talks, and dialogue with panel and the audience The event will be filmed and made available online.

There will also be a three-day pre-conference course lead by Saki Santorelli. See here for more info about the pre-conference course.

A Short Background for the Conference

The preparation for this conference has been a 3-year-process. First, we must give credit to the historian and author Yuval Noah Harari. In the middle of December 2017, the undersigned was reading his book Homo Deus.

I was thrilled by the clarity and simplicity of his writing on such a complicated theme as artificial intelligence (AI) and possible scenarios for man and the planet. I was provoked by the description of the human being as a sophisticated biological machine – defined as “bio-chemical algorithms” – leading to a new world-view: Dataism. Finally, I was enthusiastic about the concluding questions he is posing on the last page of the book following these three statements:

  • Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms and life is data processing
  • Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
  • Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.

The The three questions were: 

  1. Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?
  2. What´s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
  3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

With the exponential growth or development of AI that finally might leave us humans irrelevant, it is of the utmost importance to ask: 

What – or who – is a human being?

Or formulated thus:

Does consciousness belong to a fundamentally different order than what can emerge or be created in a machine? 

In this context, it is an interesting phenomenon to reflect upon, that when we humans create sophisticated computers, so to speak “in our own image” (Homo Deus…) – mimicking the human brain and its processes – we more or less imperceptibly start to consider ourselves to be machines, e.g. like considering the brain to be a computer. 

Reflecting on Harari’s book a question arose in me: Could it be that this view is “the new narrative” that, following Harari´s own logic about the big stories or narratives of our civilizations, finally will reveal itself as – fiction?

Harari makes us think. He raises questions whose answers will be crucial for our future as a species and for the planet.

I was contemplating these themes and questions for days and got a sudden impulse: I jumped up and called my friend Michael de Vibe saying: Shall we make a conference on AI, consciousness – and contemplative practice? After all, it´s in the contemplative traditions of the world that consciousness has been investigated deeply – for more than 3000 years. Michael joined in right away! And within a few weeks we had formulated the three topics for the conference:

1) The essence, needs and possibilities of the human being

2) The essence and possibilities of technology

3) The relationship between man and technology

As we both studied the phenomenon of AI and important questions connected with it, not the least the ethicalquestions arising, we continued our conversations on a weekly basis.

We were particularly aware of the seriousness of this topic for the future generations. After about a year we asked the board of the organization Mindfulness Norway if they would like to host this conference. They were positive at once.

Since then today´s leader Tor Magne Handeland, Cathrine Sasson, Anne Saelebakke, Michael and I have been a team that has designed the conference into what it has become today.

Much has changed recently and with the pandemic we had to change our plans, making the conference digital. This really highlights the importance of the conversations we need to have in today’s world, and we hope the conference can be a valuable contribution to this.

Christian Egge


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