Friends General Conference

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Right Relationship with Machines

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Minutes Details: 

Detroit Friends Meeting’s Right Relationship with Machines Minutes


Second Month 5th, 2019 - Virtual Meeting

Present: Cristin Graham, Joel Ottenbreit (clerk) and Sam Hays

The meeting opened in waiting worship at 8:00 p.m. with three adults present. The discussion started with the query of “What brought us here tonight?” There was a response that recent comments from major scientists, business leaders and entrepreneurs created an alarm that artificial intelligence may not be friendly toward humanity.  One significant question was, “Why would something so intelligent be kind and helpful to a lesser species?”  The existing model of lesser species acceptance is the relationship of humans toward other living species with less intelligence. In general, the vast majority of species have languished due to the appearance of humans on the planet.  Another response was that curiosity was the primary motivator in exploring the impact of artificial intelligence on human culture.  A third comment was a concern that humans were becoming too dependent on technology.  That often the technology is imperfect and that if humans depend on it for things like a major presentation. When the technology falters, the human is at a loss to continue.

The focus shifted to a discussion of some new technologies and their impact on humanity. The Chinese scientist, He Jiankui was arrested for using the Crisper technology for editing embryos and placing them in hopeful mothers for the purpose of having a baby without a genetic disorder.  Some initial reaction was that this was using science for a good purpose.  Discussion continued with concerns that this was not a proven technology and that changing some of these genes without significant trials and research may create children with unintended negative consequences.  Further discussion led the group to question if implanting rare super human genes such as those for perfect memory, enhanced color recognition, expanded intellectual or athletic capability into an embryo would be an appropriate use of technology. 

It became clear that there are many advancing technologies that will provide significant opportunities for humanity, but there are also technologies that will create ethical considerations and threats to our very existence.  The group began to discuss how this working group could move forward to develop a broader level of understanding to share concerns with a greater Quaker Community.  Someone felt that there were many of examples of how the Quaker community has embraced technology and that these examples should lead Quakers to explore issues surrounding artificial intelligence.  It was noted that the committee will need to explore further to clarify its role and purpose.  The discussion concluded with a recommendation that each member bring back one new technology to discuss for the next session.  In the next session, an attempt will be made to establish a process for further exploration.

An email will be sent with draft minutes for clarification.  The next virtual meeting will take place in March.