MbS is spearheading a massive transformation of Saudi Arabia to move past being an oil-dependent economy, to move toward a moderate Islam and into a peaceful and technologically advanced future.
The term “cyborg” is not one you might expect to hear spoken in a meeting with the royalty of the world’s most powerful Muslim country, Saudi Arabia. But the leadership of Saudi Arabia is charting a course to a new future, and artificial intelligence is central to it.
The conversation took place while I was on a trip with my father, author Joel C. Rosenberg, who’d been invited by the kingdom to lead a delegation of American Evangelical Christian leaders to meet with top Saudi officials, Muslim clerics and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, commonly referred to as “MbS.”
MbS is spearheading a massive transformation of Saudi Arabia to move past being an oil-dependent economy, to move toward a moderate Islam and into a peaceful and technologically advanced future. He calls his plan “Vision 2030.”
Much of the discussion we had with MbS involved his plans to overcome the challenges that have plagued the country historically – ending radical Islamist terrorism, eradicating the extremist ideology from schoolbooks and mosques, and advancing women’s rights. We also discussed the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which he described as “a heinous crime,” and promised to bring to justice all those responsible. Such reforms must be made, and the Saudi leadership is making them.
At the heart of his vision is a project called “Neom,” which we had the opportunity to visit on our recent trip to the Kingdom. Neom, meaning “new-future,” is described on its official website as “the world’s most ambitious project; an entire new land, purpose-built for a new way of living.” It encompasses a massive region in the northwest section of the Arabian Peninsula, currently a desert wilderness, which MbS plans to turn into a futuristic oasis for technological pioneers and innovators. The Saudi king himself issued a royal decree in August, establishing a new government agency titled, “The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority.”
Having read that Saudi Arabia had become the first country to grant citizenship to a robot (back in 2017), I asked the crown prince if he was concerned that artificial intelligence was a potential future threat.
He answered by briefly painting a picture of the possible outcomes of the development of AI. He talked of the warnings of some that the rise of AI could spell humanity’s demise. He spoke of the plans of others that humans should merge with AI and become, in his words, cyborgs.
The crown prince also told me that despite the “military and ideological challenges” regarding AI, he was excited about its future. However, he added that it is our responsibility as young people (he was 34 when we first spoke, I was 22) to keep AI “on a good path.”
Many Evangelical leaders are deeply concerned about the potential dangers AI could bring. In April, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a document titled, “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles.” Signed by 73 prominent Christians, the statement’s goal is “to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI.”