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New 'God and Computers' lectures, course at MIT this fall

CAMBRIDGE, MASS --- The Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will host a ground-breaking and controversial new lecture series, "God and Computers: Minds, Machines, and Metaphysics," beginning October 1.

Anne Foerst, a postdoctoral associate at the AI Lab, organized the 10-lecture series to explore how scientists' assumptions affect their goals and to expand the dialogue between computer science and theology. Dr. Foerst is also a Lutheran minister.

The speakers in the "God and Computers" series are experts in the fields of AI , computer science or cognitive science. All are concerned with how the human mind works. Some seek to find out by building smart machines; others, by studying neuroscience. They will speak on the general topic of how spiritual and philosophical questions fit into their scientific work.

"I hope scientists who attend these lectures will come out with the realization that it is necessary to address existential questions -- everybody does! -- and that, since AI's answers to these are necessarily limited, religion itself might be equally valid to look at," Dr. Foerst said.

The lecture series was designed to accompany MIT Course 6.915, "God and Computers," which Dr. Foerst currently teaches in the Department for Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The course proposal for "God and Computers" won a prestigious Templeton Award in 1997. Specifically designed for engineers, it was chosen as one of the 100 best university course proposals on the study of religion and science worldwide.

The six-page syllabus for "God and Computers" includes works from Aristotle, Isaac Asimov, Protestant theologian Paul Tillich and MIT Professor Rodney Brooks, creator of "Cog," the baby humanoid. This is the first time Dr. Foerst has taught 6.915, and no course like it has ever been taught at EECS.

Speakers for the "God and Computers" participate in atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and other traditions.

Dr. Paul Penfield, head of the MIT department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, opens the "God and Computers" series with his lecture, "God, The Scientist," on October 1st.

Other lectures in the series include "Artificial Humanity," by Professor Rodney Brooks, Director, MIT AI Laboratory (Oct. 22); "Spiritual Development in Studying Science," by Federico Girosi, Principal Research Scientist and Associate Director of the Center for Biological and Computational Learning at MIT (Oct. 29); "All is Foreknown, but Free Will is Given," by Professor Lynn Stein, MIT Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science affiliated with the AI Lab and the Laboratory for Computer Science (Nov. 12), and "Toward Machines that Can Deny Their Maker," by Rosalind W. Picard, NEC Development Professor of Computers and Communications, Associate Professor of Media Technology, MIT Media Lab (Dec. 10).

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