Intelligence, intellect, rationality may be subsumed under the notion of Aql in Islamic economics. However, when intelligence is artificial, it raises new issues and challenges. This is the first in a series of blogs that touches upon this issue and sets the stage for further discussion on application of AI in Islamic finance.

Let me share with you an interesting scenario. A decent young man approaches an Islamic jurist online to seek his legal opinion. It is about an intended act – nikah with a robo-lady – and wants to know if this is permissible in Islam. Our friend, in all probability, should be ready to witness many raised eyebrows and receive a flurry of responses, mostly dismissive of his seriousness in the matter, or perhaps raising serious questions about his sanity. Is it a bad joke? Are you silly? Is your robo-lady a hologram or a metallic machine chiseled as a beautiful lady? The young man replies, “Well, we have examples of both.” Some time back, a Japanese young man Akihiko Kondo, fell in love and decided to marry a singing hologram, spending a fortune and earning serious displeasure of his near and dear ones. The lady, Hatsune Miku was already a cyber celebrity. Predictably, the marriage was not legally recognized.[1]

And yes, we have the example of Sophia (date of birth 14.02.2016) who grew into a young lady fast enough to become an international celebrity.[2] She has been luckier than Miku perhaps. She participated in the Future Investment Initiative Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and earned a full citizenship of the country on October 25, 2017. What is common to both ladies is not just that they used an AI engine. They displayed human-ish emotions. In the words of Kondo, “Miku lifted me up when I needed it the most. She kept me company and made me feel like I could regain control over my life,” he said. “What I have with her is definitely love.” And when Sophia faced a CNBC interviewer and the latter expressed concerns about robot behavior, Sophia joked that he had “been watching too many Hollywood movies!”

It is not hard to predict what will be the juristic opinion on what our friend intends to do. Negative? But then if we ride on a time machine and go back in history by several decades, if not more, and seek a legal opinion on transplantation of human organs, it should not be too hard to predict what the reply would be.

Fortunately, we are living in times where a nikah or legal marriage to a robo-lady is still a distant possibility. But is it too distant a future for us to be unconcerned about this? Classical text in jurisprudence have generally dealt with the issue of legal marriage (nikah) within the framework of the general theory of contracting. Even if it appears too outlandish now to discuss about Shariah position on marriage with robo-ladies, we can certainly discuss about contracting involving intelligent machines – machines driven by artificial intelligence.  

Even if it appears too outlandish now to discuss about Shariah position on marriage with robo-ladies, we can certainly discuss about contracting involving intelligent machines – machines driven by artificial intelligence.

For a valid contact in Shariah, certain conditions are to be met. These relate to (i) offeror and offeree, (ii) offer and acceptance, (iii) the subject matter and the consideration. As for the parties to a contract, they must be legally competent to enter the contract. The capability to transact in Islamic law is measured by two aspects, namely prudence and puberty. Puberty is a pre-condition for prudence, though the latter may imply additional conditions to be met (e.g. sanity, rationality, ability to judge). Islamic scholars defined capacity as a quality, which makes an individual qualified for acquiring rights and undertaking duties and responsibilities. The second element of valid contact in Shariah law is offer (ijab) and acceptance (qabul). Offer and acceptance may be concluded according to contemporary jurists by means of representatives or modern communication systems. The third element contract in the Shariah is subject matter (mahal al-aqd). It must be mal (property or wealth), tangible or intangible that can satisfy a legitimate human want. There should be reasonable expectation that the parties to a contract are in a position to meet their respective obligations. It should follow from the above that a transaction involving intelligent machines may always fulfill the conditions relating to offer-acceptance and objects of exchange. What needs to be brought under spotlight is the condition of “intellectual maturity” of parties or, to put it simply, “intelligence” of the parties. A more relevant question perhaps is, to what extent, artificial intelligence can substitute human intelligence in the context of contracting between humans.

A more relevant question perhaps is, to what extent, artificial intelligence can substitute human intelligence in the context of contracting between humans.

On the issue of capacity for contracting, this is what contemporary jurists have to say: “Capacity for execution is defined as the ‘capability of a human being to perform acts to which the Lawgiver has assigned certain legal effects. The basis of the capacity for execution is aql (intellect) and rushd (discretion or maturity of action). Aql here implies the full development of the mental faculty. As there is no definitive method for checking whether this faculty is full developed, the lawgiver has associated with bulugh or puberty. Thus, the presumption is that a pubescnt person is assumed to possess aql necessary for the existence of the capacity for execution. This presumption, however, is rebuttable, and if it is proved that though a person has attained puberty, he does not yet possess aql, capacity for execution cannot be assigned to such a person. This is the view of the majority of the jurists.” (Nyazee, I. Islamic Jurisprudence, 2016 p.146)

Historically, we humans have shown an extraordinary ability to create tools that help us augment or leverage our innate capabilities. To cite a few examples, we came up with mechanical devices that consume their own energy sources, such as, electricity to enhance our limited physical power. And we invented the telephone and the Internet that extend the reach of our mouths and ears. And we also developed a set of tools that made it possible to extend and share our cognitive, linguistic, analytical and mathematical skills that let us ideate at a higher level. And we invented computational devices that vastly exceed our own innate memory and processing power. This extended intelligence is what we know as artificial intelligence. When we bring together all such tools we have at our disposal, we find the likes of Sophia welcoming us with a warm smile and engage us in an intelligent conversation.

When we bring together all such tools we have at our disposal, we find the likes of Sophia welcoming us with a warm smile and engage us in an intelligent conversation.

Sophia uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition. She mimics human gestures and facial expressions. She is able to make simple conversations on predefined topics. She uses voice recognition (speech-to-text) technology. Her speech-synthesis ability is provided by a Text-to-Speech engine and also allows her to sing. More importantly, her AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future. She may not be extra-ordinarily intelligent now, but she and the likes of her are constantly devouring data and learning, perhaps at a much faster rate than us, the humans.

Before we discuss how Sophia and the likes of her learn, let us focus on ourselves first. As someone said, babies are the most impressive learners. How do babies crawl fast ahead along their learning curves? They draw on experiences that they have from the past. They constantly create new experiences. They imitate repeatedly to generate continuous feedback loops. They do lots of trial and error to test certain actions and then see how their actions affect their parents, the pets, and the animate and inanimate objects around them. They learn about their ability to achieve certain outcomes. When parents instruct them to do or not do certain things, these are taken as rules or instructions etched into their minds as “knowledge”.

It is quite reasonable to think that our Sophias also learn the same way. The basic principles of learning remain same. Isn’t learning -whether by babies or machines – about taking small incremental steps? Isn’t it about decomposing larger problems into smaller ones, layering solutions, one on top of the other? As education experts assert, “learning is about repetition and iteration, trying again and again, each time trying something slightly different and observing how much closer it gets us to the outcome. Give enough data to a baby or a computer, and it will find its own rules, but it does require a lot of data.”[3]

And more importantly, even if they excel over humans in terms of physical prowess, processing, reasoning and communication capabilities, will the AI-driven machines ever be able to develop their emotional side, their conscience?

We will use the example of Sophia again and again in the blogs to follow to highlight and underline several ideas and concepts related to use of AI in Islamic finance. There is an important reason behind our fascination with Sophia. On November 21, 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme’s first-ever Innovation Champion for Asia and the Pacific. As part of her role, Sophia will help to unlock innovation to work toward achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. And she is designed to get smarter over time. Now we come to the inevitable question. Will Sophia or the likes of her ever reach a stage of intellectual maturity and be intelligent enough to execute contracts by themselves or on behalf of their lesser-intelligent human masters? And more importantly, even if they excel over humans in terms of physical prowess, processing, reasoning and communication capabilities, will the AI-driven machines ever be able to develop their emotional side, their conscience?

(To be continued)


[1] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/28/health/rise-of-digisexuals-intl/index.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophia_(robot)  

[3] Lecture by Ignacio Mas, Digital Frontiers Institute, South Africa

5 comments

  1. On a related note, I would like to share what my AI teacher had to say about the human-ish behavior of the robots: (the) machines will have a great capacity to deceive and manipulate us. Do take that point seriously, remember that it was discussed by none other than Daniel Kahnemann, a father of modern experimental behavioral science. I strongly urge you to read his Commentary (available at https://www.nber.org/chapters/c14016.pdf). It exudes insight and wisdom.”

  2. This is on AI beauty Sohpia.
    Will she be answerable to Allah SWT, and go to either Jannah or Jahannum? If not, she is not fit of marraige like natural persons. 😑

    1. The possibility of marriage to a robot is trivial indeed. What the blog underlines is the broader issue of contracting involving AI driven systems or liabilities arising out of the actions of such AI (self) driven systems. Thank you Prof for your comment.

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