Integration of Faith and Learning in Computer Science

Computer science has made tremendous progress in the last fifty years, ending in pervasive influence of computer technology in our daily life. Although computers are powerful tools for computing, modern computers are basically passive agents rigidly following the software programs in the computer memory. Computers are astoundingly precise and fast in computing, but their capability and functionality are limited by computer software. It is highly challenging to develop computer software that can flexibly learn and grow in its capability like human beings.

As a contrast, it is amazing that people can flexibly learn to see and recognize objects, to acquire language skills to communicate and understand one another, to form new concepts and accumulate knowledge over time, and to reason about a wide spectrum of things ranging from daily life common sense to deep abstract concepts. We know not much about the mechanism underlying such human creativity and learning capacity. The human capacity of learning and creativity is indeed a wonderful gift from God, and it points to the amazing work of God's creation. As Paul put it in Romans 1:20: "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Researchers in artificial intelligence, an important and interesting area in computer science, have been developing and incorporating algorithmic and mathematical frameworks into computer programs so that computers can play games intelligently, conduct automatic reasoning, interact with people through speech recognition, natural language understanding, and computer vision. The progress is quite remarkable and we have seen marvelous results such as the Google driverless car, the IBM Deep Blue machine for playing chess, the IBM Watson system for competing in the Jeopardy quiz show, the intelligent personal assistants with the smart phones, and so forth. However the capacity of learning accomplished in artificial intelligence is still very far away from the extent and flexibility of human intelligence. For example, a normal person can learn any natural language as a baby without knowing what other people are talking about in the beginning, and acquires the language skills to communicate and understand complicated subjects. But it is extremely challenging to make such learning happen in the computer. We receive such amazing learning capacity as a gift from God. Scientists are still trying hard to make it happen in a much more limited extent in the computer. This actually leads us to better appreciate the "built-in" intelligence we have received from God while we study the progress of computer technology and the human achievements in artificial intelligence.

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