AI and The Muslim World: Opportunities, Challenges, and Collaborative Pathways

Introduction 

Many Muslim scholars worldwide are diligently working to develop ethical boundaries for AI advancement. However, when we encounter predictions like those of Ray Kurzweil, it prompts us to pause and reflect. If these predictions are destined to come true, are these scholars’ efforts in vain?

Some of Ray Kurzweil’s key predictions include:

Human-level AI by 2029: Kurzweil believes that AI will achieve human-level intelligence by 2029.

The Singularity by 2045: He predicts that by 2045, AI will surpass human intelligence, leading to a point where humans and machines merge, known as the Singularity.

Advancements in Medicine: Kurzweil anticipates that AI will revolutionize medicine, enabling personalized treatments and potentially curing diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, while aging is going to be a thing of the past within the next five to ten years through AI applications in medicine.

While Kurzweil’s predictions are based on his understanding of technological trends and the “Law of Accelerating Returns,” they are not guaranteed to materialize. The future of AI is highly uncertain and influenced by numerous factors, including ethical considerations, regulatory frameworks, and societal acceptance. However, we need to keep vigilant as we know that huge investments are available to produce the results predicted by Kurzweil.

IQRA’s work in establishing ethical boundaries for AI and raising awareness about its opportunities and threats remains crucial. Regardless of the accuracy of Kurzweil’s predictions, the ethical framework being developed by IQRA and other Muslim scholars, if done in a timely manner, will help ensure that AI advancements align with universal values and principles. This work is essential for guiding responsible AI development and integration, addressing potential risks, and promoting the well-being of all humanity.

This article explores the multifaceted relationship between AI and Islamic ethics, guided by the insightful inquiries of Muslim scholars dedicated to harmonizing technological progress with Islamic principles.

Defining AI and Its Philosophical Underpinnings 

AI, as a field of study in computer science, extends beyond mere technology, encompassing a philosophy that intersects with transhumanism. The goal of transhumanism is to enhance human capabilities and overcome biological limitations using advanced technologies, raising ethical, moral, and existential questions. For Muslims this is a taboo because it involves tempering with God’s creation as in the following verse, talking about what Satan promised to do to human beings:

“ I will mislead them, and I’ll fill them with vain desires. I will command them, so they will slit the ears of cattle. I will command them to temper with God’s creation.” Whoever chooses Satan as their master, as opposed to God, is utterly ruined. (4:119)  

Diverse Perspectives on AI’s Role 

AI’s role in today’s world is viewed through various lenses:

– Technological and economic impact as a driver of productivity and innovation.

– Ethical and societal considerations, including governance and public perceptions.

– Philosophical reflections on AI’s implications for human identity and the future of work.

– Cultural and religious perspectives, examining AI’s alignment with societal values and religious teachings.

Universal Definition and AI’s Dual Nature 

A universally accepted definition of AI is foundational for understanding its dual nature. AI is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. It presents opportunities for innovation, economic growth, and advancements in healthcare and education, while also posing threats like job displacement, privacy concerns, bias, and security risks.

Regulatory Challenges 

Regulating AI development is fraught with challenges, including defining AI, achieving cross-border consensus, addressing liability and responsibility, keeping pace with rapid technological advancements, enabling innovation, considering ethical implications, and ensuring data privacy and security.

Global Regulatory Initiatives 

Global initiatives for regulating AI include the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act, the US’s executive order on AI, Canada’s proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act, China’s rules for recommender algorithms, and international cooperation through organizations like the OECD and UNESCO.

The Muslim World’s Involvement in AI Development and Regulation 

The Muslim world is actively involved in AI development and regulation, contributing Islamic ethical perspectives to global discourse, advocating for pluralist ethical benchmarking, and engaging critically with AI technology. This involvement is multifaceted, encompassing ethical framework development, policy advocacy, and practical applications that align with Islamic values. Dr. Ayman Shabana, a prominent scholar in Islamic ethics, states, “The integration of AI with Islamic ethical principles is not only possible but necessary to ensure that technological advancements benefit all of humanity.”

– Ethical Frameworks: Scholars from the Muslim world are contributing to the global conversation on AI ethics by developing frameworks rooted in Islamic traditions. A notable example is the research advocating for pluralist ethical benchmarking for AI, which introduces Islamic ethical traditions to guide policy and regulatory benchmarking for AI design and use. This approach emphasizes the significance of “maṣlaḥa” (the common good) as a normative guide for AI’s ethical evaluation, balancing utility-based and duty-based interpretations of ethical choices in the context of AI’s ethical uncertainties.

– Navigating Progress and Ethics: The Muslim world is actively navigating the path between technological progress and adherence to Islamic ethics. Discussions delve into the intersections of AI, transhumanism, and Islamic perspectives, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach that respects Islamic teachings while embracing the benefits of AI.

– Practical Applications: On a practical level, there are initiatives to develop AI systems that adhere to ethical guidelines informed by Islamic principles. These initiatives advocate for transparency, fairness, and accountability in AI algorithms and decision-making processes, ensuring that AI technologies do not perpetuate biases, discriminate against individuals or communities, or infringe upon privacy rights.

– Formulating Ethical Frameworks: Numerous ethical frameworks are being formulated within the Muslim world to guide AI development and deployment. These frameworks focus on accountability, transparency, fairness, and human-centered design, reflecting a commitment to integrating Islamic ethics with technological advancements.

The active involvement of the Muslim world in AI development and regulation demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that AI progresses in a manner that is beneficial and just, guided by the ethical principles of Islam. This engagement is crucial for shaping a future where technology serves humanity and upholds the values and teachings of the faith.

AI Research in the Muslim World: Bridging Technology and Tradition

The Muslim world is actively engaging in AI research, with initiatives that reflect a commitment to integrating Islamic principles with technological innovation. These efforts are not only advancing the field of AI but also ensuring that its development is aligned with the ethical and cultural values of Muslim societies.

– Pluralist Ethical Benchmarking: A significant research initiative is the exploration of AI ethics from an Islamic perspective. The study “Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Islamic Ethics: Towards Pluralist Ethical Benchmarking for AI” advocates for a pluralist approach to ethical AI benchmarking, emphasizing the need to introduce Islamic ethical traditions to guide policy and regulatory benchmarking for AI design and use. This research is critical at a time when AI ethical norm-setting is predominantly Western-centric, and it highlights the importance of the notion of “maṣlaḥa” (the common good) as a normative guide for AI’s ethical evaluation.

– Common AI Strategy for Arab States: Arab countries are working towards a common AI strategy to leverage synergies between nations for the development and use of AI to achieve sustainable development. This initiative, discussed in cooperation with the League of Arab States, aims to address challenges such as language processing in native languages and aligning national AI priorities.

– Embracing Technological Advancements: Various AI initiatives in the Muslim world include research centers, AI-focused educational programs, and efforts to develop ethical frameworks for AI integration. These initiatives demonstrate a proactive approach to embracing technological advancements while adhering to Islamic principles.

– Survey of Muslim Experts on AI: A survey has been conducted to gather Muslim experts’ professional views on AI-related issues. The results were published in a study titled “A Preliminary Survey of Muslim Experts’ Views on Artificial Intelligence.” This study emphasized the need for thorough and strict regulations to ensure that AI research and technology adhere to Islamic principles. The findings suggest that while there is some insensitivity towards the greater extent of AI’s impact on Muslim consumers, there is a consensus on the urgent need for regulations that align AI with the benefits of enhancing Muslim life, underpinned by Maqasid al-Shari’ah.

These initiatives represent a growing body of work that is contributing to the global AI landscape while ensuring that the unique needs and values of the Muslim world are represented and respected.

AI’s Contribution to Education 

In the rapidly evolving landscape of education, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a transformative force with the potential to revolutionize learning experiences. As the Muslim World continues to prioritize education as a cornerstone for national development, integrating AI into our education system can offer numerous benefits, addressing both current challenges and future needs.

AI can enhance education in Muslim-majority countries by offering personalized learning experiences, supporting students with special needs, enhanced teaching methods, supporting lifelong learning, streamlining administrative tasks, aiding in research, and more.

Examples and Case Studies 

To illustrate the practical benefits of integrating AI with Islamic ethics, we can look at specific examples and case studies from the Muslim world. These instances highlight how AI is being used to address critical issues and improve the quality of life in various sectors.

  • AI in Healthcare: Improving Patient Outcomes in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, AI is transforming the healthcare sector by enhancing patient outcomes and operational efficiency. For example, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center (KFSH&RC) utilizes AI-driven systems to optimize resource management, reduce patient wait times, and improve operating room efficiency. AI-powered predictive analytics are also used to identify patients at risk of developing complications, allowing for early intervention and better patient care⁶. Additionally, partnerships like the one between the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) and Philips aim to incorporate AI into the healthcare system, aligning with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goals.

  • AI-Driven Educational Tools: Enhancing Learning in Malaysia

In Malaysia, AI is playing a crucial role in transforming education. AI-driven platforms like Pandai offer personalized learning experiences by analysing individual learning patterns and tailoring lesson plans to meet each student’s unique needs. This approach ensures that all students, regardless of their learning pace, can achieve their full potential¹. Moreover, initiatives like AI TEACH Malaysia, a collaboration between Biji-biji Initiative, ASEAN Foundation, and Microsoft, aim to equip educators with AI skills, thereby enhancing educational outcomes and creating new opportunities for students.

These examples demonstrate how AI, when guided by ethical principles, can significantly contribute to societal well-being and development in Muslim-majority countries.

Future Directions and Emerging Trends in AI and Islamic Ethics

As we look towards the future, several emerging trends and potential areas of research in AI and Islamic ethics stand out. These areas not only align with the principles of Islamic ethics but also address some of the most pressing global challenges.

AI’s Role in Addressing Climate Change and restoring Earth balance

AI technologies hold significant potential in combating climate change, and restoring Earth’s balance. This is a critical issue that affects all of humanity. From optimizing energy consumption to predicting environmental changes, AI can provide innovative solutions that align with the Islamic principle of stewardship of the Earth (Khilafah). Research in this area could focus on developing AI systems that support sustainable practices and reduce the environmental impact in Muslim-majority countries.

“Eat and drink from God’s provision, and do not act unjustly on Earth by spreading corruption.” (02:60)

We have made you a moderate nation so that you may bear witness to humanity, and the Messenger may bear witness to you. (02:143)

We have created all things in precise measures. (54:49)

“It is He who made the sun radiate a brilliant light and the moon shed its lustre, and ordained for it stages so that you may learn to count out the years and [to make other such] reckoning of time. God has not created all these without a purpose. He makes plain His revelations to men of understanding. In the alternation of night and day, and in all that God has created in the heavens and the earth, there are signs for a God-fearing people. (Younus: 5-6)

Enhancing Social Justice

Islamic ethics emphasizes justice and equity. AI can be leveraged to enhance social justice by identifying and mitigating biases in decision-making processes, ensuring fair access to resources, and promoting inclusive policies. Future research could explore how AI can be used to address issues such as discrimination, inequality, and access to education and healthcare, ensuring that these technologies benefit all members of society.

The Qur’an teaches:
“Verily, God does not do even an atom’s weight of injustice” 4:40

“O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺” 4:135

“Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression” 5:2

Promoting Economic Development

AI has the potential to drive economic development by improving efficiency, fostering innovation, and creating new job opportunities. In Muslim-majority countries, AI can be used to enhance various sectors, including agriculture, healthcare, and finance. Research could focus on developing AI applications that support economic growth while adhering to Islamic ethical principles, such as fairness, transparency, and social welfare.

“He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth…” (2:30)

“Men will profit from what they earned, and women will profit from what they earned. Ask God to give to you out of His favor. God has full knowledge of everything.” (4:32)

…And help one another in righteousness and piety, but help not one another in sin and transgression… (5:03)

“It was God who created the heavens and the earth. He sends down water from the sky with which He brings forth fruits for your sustenance; He has made ships subservient to you, so that they may sail across the sea by His command; and has subjected the rivers to you. He has also subjected to you the sun and the moon, both steadfastly pursuing their courses. He has subjected to you the night as well as the day; He has given you all that you asked of Him; and if you try to reckon up God’s favours, you will not be able to count them. Truly man is very unjust, very ungrateful.” (Ibrahim: 32-34)

“We have spread out the earth, and set upon it firm mountains and caused everything to grow in due proportion. We have provided therein a means of livelihood for you and for all those creatures for whom you do not provide.” (Al-Hijr: 19-20)

“Your Lord is He who causes the ships to move onward for you across the sea, so that you may go in quest of His bounty: He is most merciful towards you. When danger threatens you at sea, you call upon Him, and forget all others you are used to invoke. But when He brings you safe to land, you turn away from Him. Man is ever ungrateful.” (Al-Isra: 66-67)

Ethical AI Development

As AI continues to evolve, it is crucial to ensure that its development and deployment are guided by ethical principles. Islamic ethics can provide a valuable framework for this, emphasizing the importance of justice, compassion, and the common good. Future research could explore how Islamic ethical principles can be integrated into AI development processes, ensuring that these technologies are used responsibly and for the benefit of all.

“Help one another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness, and do not encourage one another in intended wicked acts and aggression. Always be mindful of God because His punishment is severe.” (5:02) 

He sends rain down from the sky, and watercourses flow according to their capacity, and the torrent carries rising foam—like the foam that appears when people melt metal with fire to make ornaments or utensils. Thus God depicts Truth and falsehood. As for the foam, it vanishes, [being] cast off, but that which benefits human beings remains behind. In this way, God presents analogies. (13:17)

Conclusion

The intersection of AI and Islamic ethics presents a unique opportunity for the Muslim world to contribute to the global discourse on technology and ethics. By actively engaging in AI development and regulation, Muslim scholars and practitioners are ensuring that technological advancements align with the ethical principles of Islam. This commitment to ethical AI is reflected in the development of frameworks that emphasize transparency, fairness, and accountability, as well as practical applications that prioritize the common good. 

The Muslim world’s involvement in AI research and policy advocacy highlights the importance of a pluralist approach to ethical benchmarking, integrating diverse cultural and religious perspectives into the global AI landscape. As AI continues to evolve, the contributions of the Muslim world will be crucial in shaping a future where technology serves humanity and upholds the values of justice, compassion, human dignity, and respect for all.

By fostering collaboration between Muslim scholars, tech companies, and governments, the Muslim world can play a pivotal role in addressing contemporary issues and promoting universal values from the Qur’an. This collaborative pathway not only advances the understanding of AI within an Islamic ethical framework but also ensures that AI technologies are developed and deployed in a manner that benefits all of humanity.

Finally, The International Qur’an Research Association IQRA’ call upon Muslim scholars, policymakers, and tech developers to work together to create AI technologies that uphold the values of justice, compassion, human dignity, and respect for all.

Ray Kurzweil is a Principal Researcher and AI Visionary at Google. He was the principal inventor of the first CCD flat-bed scanner, omni-font optical character recognition, print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, text-to-speech synthesizer, music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition software. Ray received a Grammy Award for outstanding achievement in music technology; he is a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Below, Ray shares five key insights from his new book, The Singularity Is Nearer: When We Merge with AI. Listen to the audio version—read by Ray himself—in the Next Big Idea App.

  1. Information technology is advancing at an exponential rate.

While our intuition tells us the future is unfolding linearly, technology is actually advancing exponentially. This is why the pace of change often catches us by surprise. I discovered this 40 years ago when I began charting computing progress. No one knew this was happening at the time.

If you count thirty steps linearly— 1, 2, 3, 4— and so on, you get to 30. But if you count thirty steps exponentially—2, 4, 8, 16—you get to a billion. That’s a significant difference. This means that in the next 10 years, we’ll see 175 years of progress at today’s rate.

The exponential growth of computation has been smooth and steady for the past 85 years, despite world wars and economic depressions, and regardless of whether we’re measuring relay speeds, vacuum tube speeds, or integrated circuits. Most economists still use a linear model for their forecasts, which is incorrect.

Since 1939, computers have gone from performing 0.000007 calculations per second per constant dollar to half a trillion calculations per second per constant dollar. That’s a 75 quadrillion-fold increase! This happens because information technologies make each next innovation easier, creating a feedback loop. For example, we use one chip to design a better chip.

I’ve used this data to make accurate predictions about the future for the past four decades, many of which are coming true now.

  1. Artificial intelligence will reach and immediately soar past human-level intelligence by 2029.

This prediction in 1999 stirred up a lot of concern and skepticism. Stanford University was so alarmed they organized a conference of AI experts to discuss my prediction. Eighty percent of attendees thought AI would take at least 100 years to reach human-level intelligence. Yet, here we are, right on track to reach this milestone in the next five years, if not sooner. AI has already overtaken humans in many ways. You can ask a large language model any question about any subject, and it will give you an intelligent response. Who on earth can do the same?

“Artificial intelligence is not an alien invasion.”

Many people are worried that we’ll have to compete with AI for survival. But artificial intelligence is not an alien invasion. It’s evolving from within us and will reflect our humanity. From the first hominid who picked up a stick to reach a higher branch to Gemini and GPT-4 today, our technology is how we extend the reach of our bodies and minds.

  1. We will solve aging in the next five to ten years by applying AI to medicine.

This means your risk of dying will not go up as you get older. Those who are diligent with their health will reach Longevity Escape Velocity between 2029 and 2035. This is when we will be adding more time to our remaining life expectancy than is going by.

Right now, as you live through a year, you use up a year of your longevity. However, if you’re diligent about healthcare and nutrition, you will get back as much as four months per year today from breakthroughs in scientific understanding. In other words, you will only lose about eight months of longevity in a year. However, AI is advancing exponentially, so by the mid-2030s, when you live through a year, you’ll get back an entire year from scientific progress. Beyond that point, you will get back more than a year for every year you live so you’ll be going backwards in time, as far as your health is concerned.

We will achieve this by simulating biology with AI. Moderna’s Covid vaccine is an early example. At the pandemic’s beginning, Moderna used AI to help design and optimize mRNA sequences and discovered its successful vaccine in just two days. They also used AI to speed up the manufacturing and testing process, saving countless lives.

But AI will soon allow even more intensive biosimulation, testing billions of possible molecular sequences to find optimal solutions for all diseases, not just viruses like COVID-19. We are now on a rapid path to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, and aging itself.

AI is unlocking all the genetic data we need to reprogram biology. In all of history until 2022, scientists determined the shapes of 170,000 proteins. Then, AlphaFold 2, an AI model created by DeepMind, discovered over 200 million proteins, not just in humans but in all of nature. This marked a profound step forward in medicine because it gave us the information we need to determine what medicines will work one thousand times faster than we have in the past.

  1. AI is about to leap from transforming the digital world to transforming the physical world.

As we apply AI to all fields, it will accelerate everything—medicine, energy, manufacturing—basically everything we care about, all at once. We are going to live healthfully with an abundance of resources.

Civilization progresses through tightly interconnected feedback loops. More wealth means better education, better doctors, and healthier people creating even more wealth. When AI is applied to one part of the feedback loop, it doesn’t just supercharge progress in that one area—it supercharges everything.

“Civilization progresses through tightly interconnected feedback loops.”

If we look at energy, for example, the earth gets enough sunlight to meet our energy needs by over 10,000 times. For the past ten years, we’ve used supercomputing and AI to find better materials for solar cells and energy storage. As a result, the amount of energy obtained from renewable sources is doubling every four years. This puts us on track to meet all our energy needs with renewable sources by the early 2030s.

Having inexpensive and unlimited energy will allow us to convert vast amounts of dirty, salt water into drinkable water. This will lead to a revolution in food production, from horizontal agriculture to vertical farming, where we grow high-quality food in buildings controlled by AI. We’ll grow meat in labs without killing animals, reducing animal suffering. AI is going to make food healthier, cheaper, and abundant.

Unlimited power will also allow us to create an abundance of things, like houses manufactured with 3D printers. Soon, data will make up 100 percent of the value of all products and services, driving down the cost of everything.

Historically, humans have had to compete to meet the physical needs of life. But as we enter an era of abundance, our main struggle will be for purpose and meaning.

  1. By 2045, we will reach the Singularity and expand our intelligence a millionfold.

As we merge with AI, it is going to expand our consciousness in ways we can barely imagine, like a person who is deaf hearing the most exquisite symphony for the first time. It is going to radically enhance our humanity. We will be smarter, funnier, sexier, more creative.

In the late 2030s, nanorobots—electronics the size of red blood cells—will go into our brains, noninvasively, through the capillaries and provide wireless communication between the top layer of our brains and additional digital neurons hosted in the cloud, just like your smartphone connects to the cloud today. When we expand our brains digitally, our intelligence will no longer be constrained by the size of our skulls; it will be free to grow exponentially, ultimately expanding a millionfold. This is the Singularity.

We will be freed from biological limitations. We’ll choose and change our physical appearance. We’ll customize natural and virtual environments shared with human and AI friends. We’ll tap into creativity and skills that are unimaginable today, like visualizing shapes in 11 dimensions or speaking every language, which AI can already do. We will have the capability to recreate ourselves and our world. The pace of technological change will be so rapid, and its impact will be so deep that human life will be changed forever.

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