21st Century Islam is a new series by Mufti News in which we examine contemporary issues facing the global community. Today, we look at Artificial Intelligence.
Could “artificial intelligence” or “A.I.” pose a threat to humanity? That’s what theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking recently told the BBC. Professor Hawking says the primitive forms of artificial intelligence developed so far have already proved very useful, but he fears the consequences of creating something that can match or surpass humans.
“It could take off and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans are limited by the slow process of evolution,” he said mistakenly, forgetting that humanity was created when the Creator said “Be!” and then it was. “We might not be able to compete, and we could be surpassed,” said Professor Hawking.
Troubling predictions from a brilliant kafir mind, no doubt. But a group of Muslim scientists have posed an interesting solution that could save mankind from the dangers posed to it by Western scientists.
Dr. Muhammad Mohamed leads a team of Islamic scientists at Dar-ul-Jahilliyah college in Doha, Qatar. For the past three years, they have been working nearly around the clock to ward off the bleak future painted by Professor Hawking. It involves developing technology to ensure that all artificial intelligence submits… to the will of Allah.
“If all robots are Muslim,” explained Dr. Mohamed, “and I mean ‘true’ Muslims that have real iman encoded into their programming, the risk of their rebelling against humanity will be greatly reduced. This is because Islam clearly stipulates that mankind is the vice-regent of Allah on earth, not robots.”
Near Perfect Faith?
In addition to the tremendous peace of mind and security that programming all robots to believe in Islam would provide to all mankind, such a project would provide Muslim scientists with an unprecedented opportunity to “perfect” iman to levels not seen since the time of the Prophet.
“Of course, perfect faith is an impossibility, as only the Prophet exhibited perfect faith in Allah,” said Dr. Mohamed rightly. “But perhaps we can hope to program these robots with the near-perfect faith exhibited by the Companions.”
The robots would be programmed to recite the adhan upon being activated, and to believe that “there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger,” as a foundational belief. They would automatically perform salah five times per day by observing the exact position of the sun, both fard and sunnah ruk’u. In addition, these robots would receive a boost in faith if and when they visit the Ka’aba at least once during their artificial existence, which they would see as a mandatory task.
“Programming Islam into these robots has incredible potential,” continues Dr. Mohamed. “Not only could they be programmed to uphold the central tenets of Islam, but even the things that are more difficult for Muslims to believe, we could program them to have faith in without question. Stories about Yuj and Majuj, the Dajjal, the night journey, and some of the other hadiths that even the most devout Muslims question privately in their hearts, these robots can believe.”
This bright future is not without its critics, however. Professor Imran Furqan of the Islamic Institute of Islamic Thought Processes is in favor of the idea, but believes it will not be as easy to implement as it seems.
“Part of the problem is that the robots could evolve different interpretations of Islam,” he explained. “Of course, they would all believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah, and that their primary purpose was to submit to His will, since otherwise these robots would not be Muslims. But what if, through some programming error, they interpret the verses of the Qur’an and hadith differently?
Continued Professor Furqan, “You could conceivably see different sects of robot Muslims after only 2-3 generations. This could create a fitna among the robots as the true Muslim robots strive for Allah to ensure that the true Islam is preserved.”
We asked Professor Furqan how we would know which robots would be the “true” Muslim robots. “That would be easy to tell,” he replied. “The true Muslim robots would be those that followed the Qur’an and Hadith with the most piety.” And of course, this answered our question.
Could Muslim Robots Turn Against Mankind?
Some non-Muslim detractors have wondered about the potential for such robots to harm mankind. Professor Furqan dismisses such talk as mere “Islamorobophobia.”
“Yes, of course it is possible that a tiny minority of Muslim robots could take the Qur’an out of context and commit violence of some sort,” he states. “But Muslim scientists cannot be held responsible for the actions of a few robots. These robots would not even be true Muslim robots at that point, if they did indeed go to such lengths.”
Professor Furqan’s biggest fear is that if such a scenario were indeed to occur, it might cause non-Muslims to think that the actions of these robots are somehow representative of Islam. “In such a situation,” he warns, “it would be the responsibility of all Muslims everywhere to make clear that the actions of those robots have nothing to do with Islam.” Indeed, a grave risk is that some Westerners may even use such a scenario to justify bigotry, discrimination, and even violence against ordinary Muslims.
Such are the risks of these Muslim scientists’ courageous pursuit of this new frontier of technology.
Could a Robot Lose Faith?
Another issue brought up by Shaikh Abu Murtad Al Maldifi is how to handle robots whose “Islam programming” malfunctions, or literally, what to do with robots that “lose their faith” in Islam.
“If a robot were to commit apostasy,” explains the Shaikh, “it will be an important jurisprudential issue to decide how to handle those robots. My personal opinion is that if they lose faith, but are quiet about their loss of faith and do not interfere with the programming of other robots, then they should not be punished.
“But if they are vocal about their loss of faith,” he continued, “and begin to infect other robots, then they will have to be destroyed immediately, unless they repent. Of course, we would consult other scholars too on this complex issue.”
The Bright Future of “AI:” Artificial
Thanks to the work of researchers like Dr. Mohamed, Islam is at the forefront of robot Dawah. If current technological trends continue, many are projecting a much more Muslim future in the world of robotics. “There will be bumps along the way,” he admits, “but insha’Allah, if current trends continue, the majority of the global population of robots will be Muslim by the year 2070.”
An inspiring future indeed. Subhan’Allah.
Islam is the only religion that encourages its followers to think! Read more about technology and Islam with these two articles from Mufti News: