NHNAI – New Humanism at the Time of Neuroscience and AI – is a project being led by the Catholic University of Lyon, France, as part of a ten-university consortium considering how neuroscience and artificial intelligence will affect what it means to be human. The International Federation of Catholic Universities is also participating so that the global system of Catholic colleges and universities can also stay informed about the project.

This four-year project began in 2022 and will run through 2025. In March of 2022, representatives of all ten universities met in Lyon, mostly in person, but a few virtually. At this meeting, major themes appeared such as the importance of ethics in AI, and the dangers of materialistic thinking causing us to think of ourselves as mere machines and raw material for external manipulation.

These key insights have helped to guide further thinking about the project as it ramps up to become a full global conversation on what it means to be human in an age of materialistic ideology and pervasive technology.

NHNAI has four main components:

  1. Developing a list of most pressing questions to discuss with various communities of stakeholders, and from these discussions gathering academic knowledge
  2. Share the list of pressing questions for contributions and insights during further discussions with stakeholder communities through face-to-face workshops and online debates.
  3. Collect results and share them publicly, through recommendations and whitepapers, with the intention of informing ethics and policy-making efforts.
  4. Determine ways to continue this capacity-building mission in the future.

While the above might seem a bit abstract, the project is making its concerns very concrete by looking at how humanism (perhaps better thought of as the humanities and what it means to be human), neuroscience, and artificial intelligence directly affect democracy, education, and healthcare.

Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics is a key part of this effort, with Director of Technology Ethics Brian Green acting as the thematic coordinator for AI ethics. To further all of the above goals, the Markkula Center will be convening groups to discuss some of the pressing questions in education, democracy, and healthcare, and from these prepare further and more focused conversations.

By distilling the wisdom from these discussions, we hope to learn more about social sentiment on these issues and also how some of these concerns might be addressed. This project is not only about “products” and “solutions,” however. It is also about the people involved themselves. As a project meant to ask what it means to be human, it must also engage with humanity itself, in the form of real particular people who are involved in the project. Even more than any “products” that might come from this investigation, the development of talent and skill among the practitioners and conversation partners in the NHNAI project will be a long-term gain for those thinking about humanity – and living it – in this new technological age.