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10th ACWR Conference, Melbourne, 13-15 September 2019

‘A Curious Machine’: Wesleyan Reflections on the Post-Human Future

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The rate of technological change appears to be opening toward a future in which the centrality and uniqueness of human beings as rational creatures may undergo a shift. What are the biblical, theological, ethical, philosophical, and practical implications of the development of sentience within artificial intelligence? In his sermon ‘What is Man?’ John Wesley spoke of the human being as a ‘curious machine,’ reflecting the eighteenth-century view of the person as a set of complex mechanisms animated by the soul. What ‘curious machines’ may lie ahead of us, not made in the image of God but in the image of a flawed creator? Human enhancement, genetic modification, remotely controlled weapons, the replacement of human labour and skill by robots, the commodification of data, and the development of independent reasoning powers in artificial intelligence all carry both promise and risk. Such themes have been well explored in popular culture and ethicists are beginning to take such questions seriously.

What insights does a Wesleyan theological anthropology bring? How unique is human reason and intelligence? Could a robot ever possess a ‘soul’? Will the future be post-human and what theological approaches will help us prepare for that possibility? Should the rate of technological change be slowed so that we can reset our moral and ethical compass? Or is technological change and development simply a movement toward humanity’s fulfilment in God? A formal Call for Papers inviting proposals will appear here soon.

Thirty-minute papers are invited on this theme from across the entire range of theological disciplines including cultural studies. We also invite shorter presentations (15 mins) that interpret a work of art or other image, including popular culture, gaming, sci-fi, and cinema. International online presentations are welcomed.