Of Apes and Artificial Minds




19:30 - 21:00


 - Dr Joshua Schwamidass


Rayson Huang Theatre,

HKU, Pok Fu Lam


 - Faith and Global Engagement

 - FaSCoRe, HKU

 - McDonald Agape Foundation



Apes and Artificial Minds: What does it mean to be human

View the talk online.

One of the grand questions of all great art, literature, and philosophy is this: What does it meant to be human? This is a central question in science and also in theology.  These two views of the world seem to present contrasting pictures. Are we similar to the other animals, or are we different? Are we exceptional creatures, or rather unremarkable? Scientists teach we are just like the other animals, sharing  98% of our genome with chimpanzees. Theologians teach we are in the Image of God. A full telling of both, however, reveals the paradox of the human condition. Theologians teach that we were made with the “breath of God,” but we are also “of the dust.” Scientists teach that we are genetically modified apes, but we are also more than just apes. Far from a settled question, new challenges are arising with artificial intelligence. Facing the hope and risks of new technology, both science and theology call us to remember our origins as we contemplate the future. Someday, the paradox of exceptionality might extend to the artificial minds that we ourselves create. For better and for worse, we have been reshaping ourselves and our world for millennia. In a technological world, the ancient questions are as relevant now as they ever were.

About the speaker

Dr Swamidass MD, PhD is an associate professor in the Laboratory and Genomic Medicine Division at Washington University in St Louis. His research focuses using computational methods solve problems at the intersection of medicine, chemistry and biology. He is the Faculty Lead for the Translational Bioinformatics Institute for Informatics, which develops machine learning for medical applications at the molecular and cellular level.

Related events

Dr Swamidass was involved in several events in October. These included
Student discussion on 29th October:
Faith and Science.

Academic discussion on 30th October:
Peaceful Science: Being a Christian and a scientist.

Panel discussion on 30th October:
The Science and Thelogy of Adam and Eve.

Statistics lecture on 31st October:
Deep Learning in Biology.

Medical lecture on 31st October:
Modelling P450 Bioactivation: The metabolism and subsequent toxicity of drugs.

Pathology lecture on 1st November:
Of Kidneys and Blood Clots: Science and machine intelligence in healthcare.