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St. Ignatius Loyola Chair Lecture: Exploring Conceptual Plasticity: Should We Attribute Legal Personality to Intelligent Machines?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 45 p.m.


Join us for the St. Ignatius Loyola Chair Lecture featuring Louis Caruana, S.J. To describe computers and sophisticated robots, many people today have no problem using personal attributes. Alan Turing published his famous intelligence test in 1950. From then on, computers have gained an increasingly higher status in this regard. Computers and robots nowadays are not only intelligent. They perceive, they remember, they understand, they decide, they play, and so on. Recently, a further step has been taken, but, this time, many researchers are seriously concerned.

In 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution to attribute legal personality to intelligent robots. If this is accepted as law, it will have significant consequences for our self-understanding and for the way we live together as a community. This resolution and similar proposals in the U.S. have stimulated various studies, arising mainly from the area of legal studies. It is important, however, that the response also include a philosophical component on how fundamental concepts change. This lecture seeks to make a contribution of this kind. It explores the attribution of legal personality to machines by focusing on what is happening at the level of meaning, in view of indicating what dangers could lie ahead and what could be the right way to avoid them.

About the Speaker
Caruana is a Jesuit priest, a philosophy professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory. He started his education with a degree in mathematics and physics, and then proceeded with a master’s degree in philosophy and another one in theology. He obtained his Ph.D. at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. His previous service includes a six-year term of office as faculty dean and a seven-year period of teaching and research at Heythrop College at the University of London, where he was appointed reader in 2003. He spent time as a non-stipendiary research scholar at the University of Notre Dame in 2009 and at the Australian National University in 2015.

His research deals with the interaction between philosophy of science, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion, and his publications include three monographs: Holism and the Understanding of Science (2000), Science and Virtue (2006), and Nature: Its Conceptual Architecture (2015). He is also the contributing editor of two interdisciplinary volumes: Darwin and Catholicism (2009) and The Beginning and End of the Universe (2016, in Italian).

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