A.I. Am

Brandon Withrow has a new article out, about “The New Religions Obsessed with A.I.” It includes quotes from me and a number of other people who were interviewed. It is unfortunate that Anthony Levandowski declined to provide an interview or comment. He has been mentioned a lot in the news lately, because he wants to create an AI that will be or become a deity and be worshiped. He calls this religion “Way of the Future”.

I really appreciate what Steve Wiggins has written in response to Levandowski:

Another aspect of the article that generates wonder is the idea that we can create God. Yes, analysts have long claimed that we humans made God in our own image. Traditionally, however, the very concept of God was based on the idea that there was something non-human about the deity. Artificial Intelligence, however, makes the hubristic assertion that human intelligence knows enough to create a god. We don’t even know enough to elect a sane person as president. Looking at the wider world—let alone the universe—there is so much we don’t know. Our five senses are limited. There are realities which we have no way to measure. Is is perhaps not dangerous to make a divinity when our own way of looking at the universe is so terribly limited? What if I don’t like the god you build? At least with the old fashioned one we can shrug our shoulders and sigh, “that’s just the God there is.”

Any fulfilled future humanist will need to find an outlet for this need to worship. Can we truly respect a deity whose transistors we’ve manufactured? This Godhead will be, at the end of the day, only 0s and 1s. And what’s more, we will know that. Traditional religions have given us gods from the outside. Some of them are flawed, some are perfect, but they all have this in common—we didn’t make them. The universe imposed them upon us. Throughout history people have attempted, in various ways, to build their own gods. It generally doesn’t end well. It’d be like designing your own parents. They made you what you are and what would you be if you could somehow reverse engineer them into more perfect versions of themselves? Can we invent gods? Oh yes. We do it all the time. But when we set about making one that our disembodied, downloaded consciousness can worship we might want to consider the history of such attempts.

Even if we decide that they won’t become our gods – at least in any formal sense – at least in the short term, might they become our teachers? And if so, how would that be different in practice?

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  • John MacDonald

    I think most people see God as a mind, and minds are just neurons, synapses, etc., so I think one day scientists will be able to develop computers that “experience” all aspects of the human mind, including emotions. Computers will probably one day be able to identify paralogisms in reasoning and lack of clarity in ideas the same way they now identify faulty moves in chess. Imagine having Commander Data as your teacher!

  • Nick G

    Any fulfilled future humanist will need to find an outlet for this need to worship.

    Many of us don’t have that need. And many of those think it would be a good thing if that became general.

    Traditional religions have given us gods from the outside.

    No, they haven’t. Saying something is “from the outside” does not make it so.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I understood him to mean “offered.” If that wasn’t his intent, then point taken.

  • David Evans

    Wiggins writes “Artificial Intelligence, however, makes the hubristic assertion that human intelligence knows enough to create a god.”
    I think he’s missing the point that we only have to make an A.I. significantly cleverer than us.Then we can give it the task of designing the next generation of A.I., which it will be able to do much faster than us because electronic switches are faster than neurons. After a few generations we might well have an A.I. whose structure was completely opaque to us, and whose abilities we would be tempted to describe as godlike.