Postcard from the Royal Institution: The most human human

Over the Summer we invite church members and friends to send a ‘postcard’ for the blog. Fr Ian contributes from London.

Brian Christian
at the Royal Institution

In 2007 Robert Epstein, editor of Psychology Today, was in a low period of his life. He sought comfort in an online dating service, and met Ivana, for Russia. They got on well, but after two months Epstein became a little concerned. Eventually he discovered Ivana was not a person but a computer intelligent enough to communicate over such a period through e mails. (Epstein records the story here ).

In 1950 Alan Turing suggested that soon computers would be able to imitate intelligent behaviour. He proposed a test to discern the time when a computer can be said to be intelligent or thinking. As they have developed computers challenge our understanding of what it is to be human.

In his lecture at the Royal Institution in London today the American author, poet and philosopher, Brian Christian explored the challenges that Artificial Intelligence makes to our understanding of what it is to be human. He indicated how computers are in danger of limiting human communication and understanding, but at the same time show us too what are human characteristics.

What makes humans unique? What qualities enhance our humanity? Poetry and humour were two suggestions made after the lecture – are there more?


About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community where people of differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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