A computer keyboard lit by a displayed cyber code is seen in this illustration picture taken on March 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration)
The concept of an AI ‘god’ may seem outlandish, but a former Google and Uber engineer is touting the idea of a high-tech ‘deity’ as a way to improve society.
Think about how much we depend on Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa today. We ask the AI bot for directions, to check on the weather, and to dim the lights in our house. Few of us know the complex engineering required to make this happen, we just trust it will work.
By 2029, computers will reach human levels of intelligence, according to one theory. In fact, Google already uses a bot called the Assistant that can answer just about any web-search related inquiry. Could what we trust and rely on so heavily on a daily basis evolve into a ‘religion’ or a cult?
A well-known engineer who worked at Google and Uber named Anthony Levandowski has founded a new AI-based religion called Way of the Future. The charter? To worship and understand “the Godhead” for the betterment of society.
At least one expert suggested the idea of an AI godhead might be overblown, however.
“The recent coverage of AI as a single, unified power is a predictable upshot of a self-aggrandizing Silicon Valley culture that believes it can summon a Godhead,” says Thomas Arnold, a Research Associate at Tufts University’s Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory.
According to Arnold, the idea of an AI religion is really more about the tech elite thinking they can summon a religion from “whole cloth” — similar to how the industry thinks one single app can be transcendent in society or life-changing in some way. Instead, he argues that the cold and impractical nature of technology is not exactly a match made in Heaven.
“The ideas of mourning, loss, tragedy, social justice, and larger responsibilities to a neighbor — which the world religious tradition have gradually developed resources to accommodate, reflect upon, and offer rich re-framings thereof — are largely dispensed with in the AI as religion evocations,” he says. God only knows if anyone will worship an AI that’s so sterile.
An AI could write a bible for how to live and expect humans to become subservient. It’s one reason Elon Musk has decried the dangers of AI, saying superintelligence is more dangerous than North Korean nukes. Musk has slammed the concept of an AI ‘god’.
Nonetheless, AI is clearly extending its reach into society. A podcaster named Rose Eveleth helped create an algorithm that wrote an AI bible gathered from sacred writings. It’s a remarkable exercise, even though the result is mostly gibberish. Whether that really matters is open to debate, according to the experts.
“An AI would provide the equivalent of a ‘Messiah’ — having many orders of magnitude more processing elements than the brain, enabling it to gift us with solutions to the most daunting social, political, economic, and environmental challenges,” says Dr. Stephen Thaler, the President and CEO of Imagination Engines who is an AI and consciousness expert.
Seminary grad and lawyer John Mitchell says humans have a tendency to “worship supreme understanding” — and that applies to AI. “We [believe] there must be some higher power that causes lightning, sunsets, and crashing waves — or at least speaks to the bottom of our beings, rather than ignore them as ho-hum background,” he says, suggesting the same thing could happen with AI or that AI could help us understand religion better.
Of course, a superintelligent AI would likely not want to be worshipped, preferring to merely guide humanity in ways that we perceive as being (mostly) helpful.
“I would expect the AIs that evolve in the next 50 years to be very rational and, if conscious, not want to be worshipped. If they have the human race’s best interests at heart (and God help us if they don’t) then they would want us to have as much right of self determination as possible,” says book author and computer consultant Peter Scott.