James McBride is Clinical Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University. He formerly served as a tenured Associate Professor of Religion and Social Ethics at Fordham University and practiced securities litigation for a decade in New York City. He received his J.D. from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and his doctorate in Religion and Social Ethics from the joint Ph.D. program at Graduate Theological Union/University of California-Berkeley. His most recently published work appeared in the 2017 issue of Sophia (“Robotic Bodies and the Kairos of Humanoid Theologies”) and the 2016 Routledge volume The Crisis and Renewal of American Capitalism: A Civilizational Approach to Modern American Political Economy (“The ‘Wild West’ on Wall Street: An Analysis of and Prognosis for the American Model ofPostmodern Finance Capital in the Global Economy”).
Invited Talk #1
“The Advent of Postmodern Robotic TechnoReligiosity"
Although the term sounds incongruous, “robotic religion” will emerge as a prominent feature in the posthuman world. With servant-robots taking on various tasks, such as caregivers to and tutors of children, many humans will want to ensure that their humanoid robots act and teach in concert with the moral standards of their religious faiths. Accordingly, the next century will witness the development and marketing of religiously-identified robots, e.g., Muslim robots, Catholic robots, Mormon robots, etc. This paper will explain how this phenomenon will occur by (1) establishing minimalist, i.e., sociological, and maximalist, i.e., phenomenological, definitions of religion, (2) showing the ways in which the programming and interaction of robots will reflect the minimalist definition of religion, e.g., beliefs, practices, and communities, and (3) surmising that, based upon certain technological breakthroughs, the transfer of human experiences to robotic systems will fulfill the maximalist definition of religion as the experience of the holy. The latter poses serious theological and philosophical questions, for if religious experiences, evidenced in human neurological patterns, are deemed real, are they less so if transferred to a robotic “brain”? Or if a humanoid robot hosts a postmodern “authentic replica” of the original human experience, won’t this hyperreal experience of the sacred be just as real as the human original? In other words, will the future witness, e.g., the rise of the “born-again” robot?
Invited talk #2
"On the Desirability and Dangers of Autonomous Warrior Robots"
Autonomous warrior robots, otherwise known as Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) may be deployed in the field by 2050. The US DOD issued a “roadmap” in 2014 for the projected use of such unmanned systems over the next 30 years, and the UN publishes an annual report of experts on LAWS. For military planners, government officials, and even ethicists, the advent of warrior robots who act autonomously on the battlefield will solve many of the problems that plague the armed forces, e.g., recruiting, feeding, clothing, training, exposure to chemical and biological warfare. Nevertheless, the lack of human control risks disaster on the battlefield, not just in the success of tactical operations, but in the chance of widespread civilian death and destruction. The purpose of this paper is to review and analyze the scholarly literature on LAWS in global socio-political and ethical contexts to determine the desirability and dangers of weaponized robots. Although these new weapons will be available in the not- too-distant future, nations must decide whether to restrict their numbers and development, as they have done with nuclear weapons through the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ban them altogether, or allow countries unfettered manufacture and deployment of warrior robots in combat situations.