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Sylvester Johnson: Can Robots Feel Pain?

Theorizing AI from Ibn Rushd's 'Science of the Soul'

February 13, 2023

In an age of intelligent machines and human-machine synthesis (cybernetics), how might experts in the study of religion interrogate the capacity of artificial intelligence (AI) to think, be sentient or feel pain? In this lecture, Sylvester Johnson, associate vice provost for public interest technology and founding director of the Center for Humanities at Virginia Tech, interprets theoretical claims about the “science of the soul” in the work of Ibn Rushd (Averroës), the 12th-century Islamic scholar of Andalusia who achieved renown as the father of secularism. Johnson leverages Rushd’s distinction between sensing and knowing in order to examine contemporary, sensory-driven AI technology (particularly brain-computer-interface architectures) as a uniquely generative problem of interest for humanists and technical experts alike.

One of the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity