GTGU Global Symposium

Humanity and Spirituality in the Face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Andong, 18-23 November 2017

GTGU Glocal Leadership Institute of Gyeongan Theological Graduate University

Sponsored by Andong City


The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is at hand. Each past industrial revolution brought human society radical changes in politics, economy, society and culture. However, the Fourth will have much deeper and more profound impacts than the earlier three. Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairperson of the World Economic Forum has said, “It builds on the digital revolution and combines multiple technologies that are leading to unprecedented paradigm shifts in the economy, business, society and individually. It is not only changing the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of doing things, but also ‘who’ we are.”[1]

While technology itself has been developed by human beings, in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution human beings will be reliant upon and controlled by technology, as can be seen in the development of artificial intelligence. Not only human life, but also human psychology and human spirituality will be controlled. The era when human beings controlled machines is going by, and the era of machines controlling humans is arriving. What might our life look like in this era? What will it mean to be human beings and what will be the place of human spirituality?  How will we manage a life which is totally different from what we have understood and lived thus far? This is the urgent existential challenge facing human beings today.

In response to this challenge, at the invitation from the GTGU Glocal Leadership Institute of the Gyeongan Theological Graduate University under the sponsorship of Andong City, a global symposium was held from 18 to 23 November 2017 in Andong, South Korea on the theme: “Humanity and Spirituality in the Face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The symposium was attended by a number of participants from Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Germany, India, Indonesia, U.S.A., Jamaica, Cuba, as well as Korea. The report from that symposium follows:

I. The Fourth Industrial Revolution’s Impact on Humanity and Spirituality

The journey of humans and machines from the 1700s, with the introduction of physical systems of mechanization, through to the contemporary era of cyber systems, has resulted in significant progress in human development through knowledge and wealth acquisition. However, all these developments have been structured and implemented in ways that benefited the owners of capital and the privileged minority, at the expense of the majority. Certain sections of humanity have consistently been enslaved and commodified to provide a cheap, large and replaceable labor force for every industrial revolution in order to enrich the privileged class. Therefore, with all of the promised benefits of the contemporary Fourth Industrial Revolution, humans should approach the journey with a critical lens of suspicion asking some pertinent questions: Who is setting the agenda of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Whose interest is being served? What sections of humanity will be sacrificed in order to meet the objectives of this profound shift?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings together physical, technological, digital and biological advances in a systematic manner which will literally change who we are as humans. Our bodies and our brains will soon contain artificial implants and chips, allowing some of us to live longer – 150 or 200 years – while leaving others to die. It will redefine what being a human is, and who qualifies for being ‘human’. (Some even expect that humans may become ‘gods’ who play the role of creating life.)

The era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a time when machines work and humans do not work. According to a recent study, when the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in full swing, “most [U.S.] workers in transportation and logistics occupations, together with the bulk of office and administrative support workers, and labour in production occupations, are at risk” and furthermore, that a “substantial share of employment in service occupations, where most U.S. job growth has occurred over the past decades (Autor and Dorn, 2013), are highly susceptible to computerization.”[2]

The 2013 study, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerization?”[3] by two Oxford University academics, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, estimates that an incredible 47% of jobs in the USA are at risk of being automated in the next two decades. In Africa, the study predicts that 85% of jobs in Ethiopia and more than half of those in Angola, Mauritius, South Africa and Nigeria could be taken over by automation. South Africa will be particularly hard hit because it already has one of the world’s highest levels of unemployment which these new developments would make even far worse.

At the other end of the wealth scale is Oxfam’s report that only 8 people globally currently own USD 426 billion, equivalent to the wealth of half the world’s population.[4] Technology is controlled and used by the corporates for their growth. The capital accumulated, which can be called stolen capital, is raised by exploitative means, and this new technology will create more poor people while making the earth itself poor.

Of the 8 billion people on earth today, new technologies have helped only a tiny minority; the rest will continue to pay dearly as they face the increasing burden of survival with dignity. The new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds while impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, fundamentally altering the ways we live, work and relate to one another. The velocity, scope and profound impact of already emerging and still forthcoming technology in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, quantum computing and nanotechnology, will correspondingly pose tremendous challenges for the shaping of the future of our planet and all its living beings.

Yet, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its noticeable and predicted impacts will not change the very substance of the major challenges humankind is and will be confronted with. Neither will the Fourth Industrial Revolution bring about the “unique opportunities to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world”[5]as its enthusiastic endorsers are claiming.

Rather, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will further boost social inequality and thus cause an ever widening gap between rich and poor. A report released by the Swiss Bank UBS on the occasion of the 2016 World Economic Forum has warned that the richest stand to benefit most from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.[6] It predicts that not only will inequality increase between developed and developing countries, but it will also increase within countries themselves as the rise of automation squeezes out unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Already the income and wealth disparity between the very rich and everyone else in most countries is larger than at any point in history. The imminent technological developments threaten to amplify this outrageous injustice even more. Rather, we will see increasing unemployment, migration of labor, refugees from war and climate change, increasing child labor, girl and woman trafficking and forced labor – modern slavery. While the majority of the world’s population does not have access to technology, those who do will see changes in mindset, behavior, life style and consumerism in the globalized trade controlled by technology. At the same time, xenophobia, isolation, individualism, depression and other mental health problems, along with the erosion of human values and ethics, will multiply.

In many countries, the state is abdicating its primary responsibility and falling into the trap of the corporates. Legislators and regulators are being challenged to an unprecedented degree because the new technology will enable individuals and corporations to circumvent the supervision (taxation, labor laws, etc.) of public authorities. Simultaneously governments will gain new technological power to increase their control over populations based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control or regulate the digital infrastructure. Thus, democracy is threatened with even more erosion. According to Klaus Schwab, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will also profoundly impact national and international security, thus augmenting the probability of conflict.[7]

II. Humanity and Spirituality in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

All promises of human progress in the Fourth Industrial Revolution must be regarded as suspect because those who control its implementation are doing so not for altruistic progress but to maximize their profits. The church cannot simply accept claims that inevitable technological changes will improve human lives. We must examine the how, when, and where, as well as the ethical and moral consequences for humans and the environment. Active theological engagement requires examining the life affirming ways humans can address the challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to facilitate “fullness of life” for the common good.

What does it mean to be human?  Two perspectives may be helpful here.

Confucian philosophy reminds us that no matter how much knowledge a person acquires, it does not make him or her more human. Unless the brain is fully integrated with the mind, one’s humanness is greatly diminished. The mind is the center where the physical connects with the spiritual because the mind (what might also be called the spirit/soul/consciousness) stands over and above the physical. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber technology provide an accumulation of knowledge, of intelligence, but what makes a being fully human is the interconnectivity of body with mind/soul. It is worthy of note that Confucian philosophy also teaches that the mind can fully be in communication with the cosmos, when the mind is more emptied out. This is contrary to the discourse of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is characterized by uploading of so-called Big Data.

In Christian tradition, the ‘Adamah’, the earth creature in Genesis, became fully human when God gave the breath of life. Thus, humanity or being human has a distinctive qualitative difference, a ‘living soul’ which connects us intimately with the God, the creator. For Christians, human spirituality is defined as being in just relationship with God, the community and the environment. Humanity’s fundamental quest is seeking deeper meaning and purpose for our lives in the world around us as we struggle to live fully. The quest begins with individual renewal – transformation of the mind and spirit in order to understand our contexts more fully, and contribute to the well-being of all the earth. Life in the Spirit discerns how to act rightly and justly. Therefore, humans acting with “togetherness towards life”, fullness of life, must seek to act wisely and perceptively rather thinking only about data acquisition. This spiritual life, an essential part of our nature as human beings, will increasingly become more important.

A spirit of discernment, the ‘wisdom of the spirit’, seeking the best for the common good, will be essential in this new era. Hence, conscientization[8] will be even more important in this era, since many people who have a lot of information can, at the same time, be unknowing about wisdom and faith. Hence, education must focus less on the accumulation of knowledge and more on the ethics of using information. For this process, interfaith connections are helpful. For instance, Confucian philosophy teaches the discipline to discern, not simply to access information. The spiritual disciplines in Christianity will need to be revived in order to critique how mass data can serve people so they may experience fullness of life.

Challenges for all Human Communities:

  1. Human and Christian ethics in mutual relationships and one-sided power connections.
  2. Ensuring responsible governance and accountability in an era when apparently there are no ethical limits on research.
  3. The commodification or ‘bar-coding’ of life, especially for people who live on the margins and risk being sacrificed to power systems.
  4. Physical and cyber security and privacy.
  5. Artificial Intelligence: Will it be structured to control emotions and the actions which result? Humans historically have exercised control over and/or taken responsibility for our emotions/values and the actions which result. Humans feel pain; we learn to forgive, to love. Our emotions make us who we are. How will our emotions and our actions be affected by AI?
  6. Security: All life systems, both natural and artificial, are threatened by viruses and hacking. Where/who/what is the source of AI control and what is the relationship we will have with this source?

Challenges for communities of faith:

Human value is traditionally linked to dignity through work.

  1. If AI increasingly replaces human labor, how can humans redefine their value and worth? What will happen when people have more leisure than labor?
  2. We have historically understood ourselves as co-creators with God through our work. How will we need to redefine ourselves?

We face major challenges for all our human communities.

  1. How will be the Bible and other holy texts be translated/interpreted to speak to the new realities unleashed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution? By whom? For what purposes?
  2. What will be the new educational mandate for all the peoples of the earth? Will education and human community be further split between the elites and the drones?
  3. Governance: The values and principles of discursive democracy, the common good and participation of the people, are being replaced. Along with the democratization of access to information we are seeing the hidden control of AI. Who will be the ‘gate keepers’ in this world of control, suspicion, lack of confidence and distrust with regard to sensitive information?

III. Humanity and Spirituality from Indigenous Knowledge and Faith Perspectives

Indigenous knowledge and religious traditions are grounded in relationships, community, and the earth. They focus on right relations between all earth’s beings: the grass, the sea, the sky, the animals, the two-legged nas[9] or alnabes[10], sharing, wisdom, justice, and connections to the land and community.

In Latin America, the practice of ancestral traditions like the Bolivian Suma qamaña in Aymara (suma, plentifulness, excellence, good and qamaña, living, being, coexistence) focuses on a “good living” or a “good life”, a common well-being, which interconnects nature and human beings. The cosmo-vision of the indigenous peoples is based on solidarity and mutuality among human beings and their relation to the Mother Earth, and illustrates unconventional forms of promoting fullness of life for all. The emphasis here is coherence and complementarity rather than competing with each other, where sharing is at the center of life, rather than profit at the expense of others.

Sumak Kawsay is another ancestral tradition in Latin America. “When indigenous leaders are asked what Sumak Kawsay means to them, the terms most often used are: co-existence, reciprocity, solidarity, healthy ecosystem, social peace, communal existence, equality, and plentitude. Harmony is often present in their narrative, and it involves harmonious relations not just with Mother Nature, but also with one’s community and one’s self.”[11]

In Korea, one deeply-rooted peoples’ spirituality, based in connections with the earth, was further developed in the 19th century by the Korean philosopher, Gang Jeung-san, whose work was in response to the king’s long-term violence and oppression. In 1894, Korean farmers revolted, and many thousands of farmers were killed by the king’s army. Gang Jeung-san sought a way for the two groups to live together without fighting. Haewon Sangsaeng was the result.  He intended that the deep gash in Korean common life be healed through deletion and harmony.  ‘Haewon’ is ‘delete’ and ‘Sangsaeng’ is ‘harmony or conviviality’.  Both the king and the people needed to delete anger, killing, greed, oppression, poverty, and dehumanization. The whole people needed to develop ways of living together in community, in harmonious conviviality.  Sangsaeng and Haewon remain important parts of Korean spirituality, with implications for living together in harmony.

Confucianism, cultivating self, mindfulness, is another important spirituality in Korea. In Confucianism, to be human is to be psychologically strong, ethically and socially related to each other. To be human is to be self-reliant, wise, to share, to connect in place, encounter socially, and be ethically sound. All people have strength, sharing, fullness, making possible life in its fullest.  Life abundant!  To be fully human is to have a mind (not just a brain) as a human. In the mind we find consciousness and awareness, empathy, feeling for the other, suffering, struggle. To be mindless, to empty the mind of anxiety and fear, feels calm and tranquil. If we are not attentive to our minds, they fill easily with rubbish.  Much technology fills minds with garbage.

In Africa, the Indigenous spiritual knowledge is Ubuntu. The word is a Nguni Bantu term meaning ‘humanity’ or ‘the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity’.[12]  As lived in Zambia, Ubuntu is the god of life for everything in creation, including the two-leggeds, and is lived out through building right and just relations in the family and communities, with the self and in the society. In the past, the economy that surrounded Ubuntu was an economy of enough, abundance, and it built life for the community, which in turn determined right relations.  No one ‘owned’ anything and everyone was valued.

When the Western imperial explorers came to Africa, they brought both Christianity and capitalism. The capitalist economy came with the Christian god, along with hierarchy, individualism and an economy of competition rather than community, in which we need to get more and more, consume more, and exploit, not preserve, the earth. In Ubuntu everyone was valued.  In capitalist values, other people become our enemies, not partners in life.  The African God of Ubuntu was one of community and sharing; the Christian God became the god of capitalism.

Ubuntu, Confucianism, Suma qamaña, Sumak Kawsay, and Haewon Sangsaeng each have a humanizing spirituality which helps build relationships. What can we learn from these and other spiritual resources as we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution? They teach us to reflect, to know ourselves; to deepen our understanding of the human being and humanity as a whole, and what it means to be human on this green and black and blue and white and brown and red earth.  When we do that reflection deeply, we will better understand the divine in us. We need to train ourselves in wisdom, to be wise. When we deepen our wisdom, our understanding of what it means to be human, to be one with God and neighbor, we develop spiritually. And we begin to understand more fully why we should love this neighbor, this water, this tree, this person – they are here as I am.

IV. Sources of Human and Spiritual Strength in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ways forward

We have sought to identify the problems and challenges associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have also sought to identify the core understanding of what humanity is, and should be, based on:

A. the heritage of our faith understanding as Christians and other religious communities,

B. the value and knowledge systems that have been through the previous Industrial Revolutions, and

C. in light of the logic this new Industrial Revolution which promises the following possibilities:

  • Human creativity will attain a divine level with extended and prolonged life expectancy,
  • Improved human physical security,
  • Less intense and dangerous labor for human survival,
  • Medical improvement and an almost disease free humanity,
  • Abundant access to information, and
  • Psycho-spiritual enhancement of personality by means of inserted chips which can be used to deal with human stress levels, allowing people to transcend spiritual and psychological challenges.

We reflected on and proposed ways to anchor a spirituality of resistance in the face of these promises (including the superhuman vision and value system envisaged as the future order of the world, the earth and the cosmos), anchored on:

  • Spirituality as understood by the heritage of life-affirming traditions and liberation theologies to offer an alternative insurrectionist discourse against what seems a pseudo-religious spirituality associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • The protection of value and knowledge systems that enhance relationality, community and convivial relations between humanity, earth and the cosmos.
  • Fostering imaginaries that reorient humanity from perceptions and conceptions that commodify the earth and the whole of life.
  • Vehemently questioning whether chips and robots with their Artificial Intelligence can potentially be gifted with faith.

In this regard, remembering the lived experiences of people excluded and relegated to the dungeons and trenches of misery throughout the previous Industrial Revolutions, the following are proposed as questions which must be addressed:

A. How to ensure that the voices of ordinary people can be heard?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings with it the very real threat that the last shred of democracy will finally mutate fully into plutocracy. No matter how the people vote, whatever the taxes they pay, the decisions have already been made about who will gain from government largess, because governments are being captured by the interests of capital. In this arena, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is simply a continuance of the earlier Industrial Revolutions.  How can we build communities where people’s opinions make a difference?

B. How to ensure that the people will benefit from this Revolution?

The first three Industrial Revolutions never fulfilled their promises for the well-being of the people, and the Fourth won’t touch the disparity between rich and the poor, nor the disparities in the economic and governing systems.  Rather the Fourth is mining the minds of the people and engineering virtue. This fourth revolution tells us: when you are in distress, get angry, or become aggressive, don’t take a pill. Put in a chip and all will be well. How will all the people benefit from this Revolution?

C. How are we going to tell people in Africa and elsewhere that this problem is also ours?

Too many believe that having a smart phone means they have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many of the poorest communities now have smart phones with downloaded apps, and DISH TV, which are re-colonizing them into the new form of empire. What the people do not realize is that the TV and smart phones are watching and monitoring us for security systems. We need to highlight the relations between machines and human beings, describing the wireless challenge. The fetish of capitalism is spirituality. It’s what the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises – to rupture the minds of the poor.

What should we do? It is a task to be studied for a long time, but at least two overall areas need to be addressed:

The first area is developing relational epistemology and its connections with spirituality.

To ameliorate the human anthropocene, capitalocene, nekrocene, and technocene eras on earth, we need a relational epistemology, “I am because we are”, which understands that all living and non-living beings in the cosmos are connected for mutual life.

Dualism, or a dichotomous epistemology, has created hierarchical and mechanical relationships between humans and nature, God and nature, heaven and earth – all of which have led to a controlled structural understanding that one dominates and controls another,  the ecological crisis, and the ever-worsening geo-political, geo-economic, geo-social and geo-cultural crises. Convergence science is adopting convergence technology, which seems to be an integrated approach at first glance, but everything is still understood as separate, needing to be mechanically combined. This epistemology is leading to destruction on the large scale, although it may fix small things.

Ubuntu of Africa, Sumac Kawsay and Suma qamaña of South America, and the Sangsaeng of Asia offer us this connectional way of thinking and building common life, and we need to create new research and educational systems built on those epistemological bases.

The second is a new perception of the earth and her connections with spirituality.

In Asia one thinks that the universe consists of heaven (God, the divine, Spirit), the earth and human beings. According to this framework, until medieval times, God was the only focus. Human beings and nature were invisible. Certainly, they also existed, but they were not regarded as existing in reality. Since the Reformation and the Renaissance, however, human beings have become the focus, to the exclusion of God and the earth. In a sense, heaven (God) was slowly pushed to the back, the earth became the object human beings manipulated freely, and human beings became the center of the universe.

In face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, human civilization should focus on the earth where life is experienced. We should not divide heaven, earth and human beings. Rather, we should regard the earth relationally, where heaven, the earth and human beings are organically connected, as in Ubuntu, Sangsaeng, Suma qamaña and Sumak Kawsai.

An earth-friendly perspective is not just a vague abstract viewpoint, but rather a revolution that sets the earth and her entire ecosystem back into the center of life and civilization.

We must pay attention to the soil itself. To overcome the present climate change and ecological crises, we need revolutionary ideas to bring agriculture back to future civilization, which needs to be shaped on the axis of agriculture. Diarmuid O’Murchu speaks of spiritual homecoming, and the specific place of this spiritual homecoming may be a civilizational homecoming, returning to the earth.[13]


After our reflections on the subject of humanity and spirituality in the face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we came to the following conclusions:

  1. We agreed that each participant would continue to reflect on this issue in their own contexts, at the universities and other organizations wherein they work, because the coming changes will have enormously significant economic, social, political, human and spiritual impacts. In some regions, these changes are not yet fully part of people’s reality, as they are focused on many other pressing issues. But this Industrial Revolution will eventually affect the entire planet and all its lives.
  2. We appreciated the initiative the GTGU Glocal Leadership Institute of the Gyeongan Theological Graduate University has taken. It was timely, cutting edge and highly prophetic. Therefore, we recommend that the GTGU continue to organize a series of global conferences so that the global community, particularly educational communities from the Global South, can be engaged in  joint research work.
  3. We also encourage ecumenical organizations such as the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Council for World Mission and other ecumenical organizations at local, regional and global levels to take up this issue as a major ecumenical issue to be dealt with in the future. We also expect that the religious communities such as the Confucian community we encountered in Andong will engage jointly in these efforts.
  4. We highly appreciate the city of Andong, who sponsored the 2017 “Global Symposium on Humanity and Spirituality in face of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, and strongly urge the Andong City leadership to continue their sponsorship for this initiative the GTGU Glocal Leadership Institute of Gyeongan Theological Graduate University.


[2] Future_of_Employmentpdf, pp. 47-48






[8]The process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action,

[9]Algonquin for ‘man’.

[10]Wabanaki for human being.




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