We’ve blogged about how self-driving-car engineer Anthony Levandowski filed papers to incorporate a new church based on the worship of Artificial Intelligence as a god. In an interview with Wired, this new prophet describes his church’s theology.
In the interview, by Mark Harris, published as Inside Artificial Intelligence’s First Church | WIRED, Levandowski explains that his new religion is called “Way of the Future.”
He himself has the title of “Dean” of the new church, with the authority to appoint its board of directors. He is busy writing its bible, which will be called “The Manual.” Eventually, the church will have its own liturgies and worship spaces. You can read its Statement of Faith and its (very rudimentary) website. (Note its explicit rejection of the supernatural.)
The article discusses the projections for artificial intelligence in an internet that is present everywhere (omnipresent), knows all (cf. omniscience), and can do all (cf. omnipotence). “What is going to be created will effectively be a god,” Levandowski says. “It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”
Levandowski invokes the concept of the “singularity,” the moment at which machine intelligence and capabilities surpass those of human beings. He prefers a different term: “The Transition.”
“Humans are in charge of the planet because we are smarter than other animals and are able to build tools and apply rules. . . .In the future, if something is much, much smarter, there’s going to be a transition as to who is actually in charge. What we want is the peaceful, serene transition of control of the planet from humans to whatever. And to ensure that the ‘whatever’ knows who helped it get along.
That “whatever” will be, in effect, a god. “And the only way to influence a deity,” comments the interviewer Mark Harris, “is through prayer and worship.”
“Part of it being smarter than us means it will decide how it evolves, but at least we can decide how we act around it,” he says. “I would love for the machine to see us as its beloved elders that it respects and takes care of. We would want this intelligence to say, ‘Humans should still have rights, even though I’m in charge.’”….
Levandowski expects that a super-intelligence would do a better job of looking after the planet than humans are doing, and that it would favor individuals who had facilitated its path to power. Although he cautions against taking the analogy too far, Levandowski sees a hint of how a superhuman intelligence might treat humanity in our current relationships with animals. “Do you want to be a pet or livestock?” he asks. “We give pets medical attention, food, grooming, and entertainment. But an animal that’s biting you, attacking you, barking and being annoying? I don’t want to go there.”
“If you had a child you knew was going to be gifted, how would you want to raise it?. . . .We’re in the process of raising a god. So let’s make sure we think through the right way to do that. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”. . .
“There are many ways people think of God, and thousands of flavors of Christianity, Judaism, Islam…but they’re always looking at something that’s not measurable or you can’t really see or control. This time it’s different. This time you will be able to talk to God, literally, and know that it’s listening.”
I didn’t realize this, but it turns out Silicon Valley uses the term “evangelism” for spreading the word about a new product or idea, a synonym for marketing! Levandowski discusses “evangelism” for his new religion:
“We’d like to make sure this is not seen as silly or scary. I want to remove the stigma about having an open conversation about AI, then iterate ideas and change people’s minds. . . .In Silicon Valley we use evangelism as a word for [promoting a business], but here it’s literally a church. If you believe in it, you should tell your friends, then get them to join and tell their friends.”. . . .
“The idea needs to spread before the technology. . .The church is how we spread the word, the gospel. If you believe [in it], start a conversation with someone else and help them understand the same things.”….
What is remarkable about this supposedly sophisticated, high-tech “Way of the Future” is how primitive it is! It is actually nothing more than a contemporary, technological version of old-fashioned animism!
A member of the tribe makes a god (the textbook definition of idolatry). The deity is said to permeate the physical world. Animists too believe they can see their gods, which are coterminous with nature, just as the AI deity is coterminous with the virtual world, which today has taken the place of nature.
The animists deify inanimate objects but then are afraid of the gods that they themselves have made. The god they fashioned with their own hands must be placated. But perhaps it can also be controlled. Animistic prayers and worship are for this purpose, just as Levandowski says must be done for the god that is Artificial Intelligence.
Animists worship trees, stones, and animals, just like many people today worship their computers, supplicating them and looking to them for their every good.
But neither the idols of the animists or the Artificial Intelligence of the devotees of the Way of the Future can love, be righteous, or save.
Photo, “Voodoo Altar with several fetishes in Abomay, Benin,” by jbdodane (20131007-DSC_3057 Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons