JTF awards CTNS three-year project on Virtue and AI

John Templeton Foundation awards CTNS a three-year project titled Virtuous AI?: Artificial Intelligence, Cultural Evolution, and Virtue

The following news article is excerpted from gtu.edu.


The Graduate Theological Union (GTU) is pleased to announce that the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) has awarded the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) a $445,000, three-year grant beginning in July 2022 to take forward critical research on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its ethical implications. The project, titled “Virtuous AI? Artificial Intelligence, Cultural Evolution, and Virtue,” seeks to explore several core questions: How and to what extent will AI influence the evolution of human culture and virtue? Can AI assist humans in the acquisition of virtue? Is AI itself capable of virtue? If so, are those virtues shared with or distinct from human virtues? 

“Our global society is experiencing rapid advancements in AI technology, which is becoming deeply integrated into our personal and communal life. This development is compelling many to ask critical ethical questions about AI’s potential and its relationship with humanity’s future,” said GTU President Uriah Kim. “We are proud to have CTNS leading this investigation, offering a robust history of ethical, philosophical, and theological inquiry, paired with cutting-edge research into this burgeoning topic.” 

The increasing integration of AI into the landscape of lived human experience and culture ranges from AI technology in smartphones and autonomous vehicles, to incorporating AI directly into society, such as intelligent machines active throughout the workforce and in homes. The extent of this integration raises fundamental questions about human culture, evolution, and virtue, which will provide the conceptual framework for CTNS’s project. An interdisciplinary, global network of scholars from AI scientists to humanities researchers will collaborate to carry out the project, coordinated and led by Dr. Braden Molhoek, Director of CTNS and Ian G. Barbour Assistant Professor of Theology, Science, Ethics, and Technology. 

According to Molhoek, “Focusing on virtue furthers CTNS, the GTU, and JTF’s shared goals of having a project that is interdisciplinary and multi-faith. Roughly 50 scholars have agreed to participate in the program, representing voices from Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. It also expands the scientific and technological issues with which the Center has traditionally engaged, including physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, and genetics, with additional work in the areas of neurosciences, environmental sciences, and mathematics.” 

As part of its multi-year project, CTNS will hold three interdisciplinary online public research conferences in 2023, hosted in Berkeley, Seoul, and Rome. CTNS will encourage scholars from underrepresented regions and perspectives to participate as it engages with researchers from a variety of geographic, philosophical, and theological positions on diverse topics related to AI and virtue. Select participants will be asked to expand upon their presented papers for publication in three edited volumes, summarizing this comprehensive, interdisciplinary research. CTNS intends to leverage the accumulated learning from these conferences and publications into the creation of new GTU course offerings in the coming years. 

“GTU students will have first access to cutting-edge research at the intersection of technology and ethics, thanks to CTNS and this global research project,” said Dr. Jennifer Davidson, GTU Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs, a role she began on July 1. “The GTU continues to be a place where new ground is broken in the work of interreligious and interdisciplinary scholarship, as it has for the past 60 years.” 


More detailed information about the grant can be found here