“What is the meaning of life?”
“What is my place in the universe?”
“What happens when we die?”
Human beings have wrestled with issues of purpose and meaning since the dawn of time. They have frequently looked to one another for significance. Nothing provides spiritual structure like a religion, though. People have made appeals to the heavens for as long as they have walked the planet.
Gods have always been mysterious. They are unknowable and incomprehensible; yet, they are all-powerful. What happens if human beings understand the origins and nature of their gods? What if they create their own sentient, tangible, living gods? The answers to these questions might be closer than you think. As technology evolves, the likelihood of the appearance of an autonomous, programmed deity increases. The very concept has experts and laymen wondering what comes next for humanity if it succeeds in creating a digital godhead.
Scientists, futurists, and engineers find the prospect of creating a digital deity fascinating. For Anthony Levandowski, though, his main goal is now the pursuit of a computer-powered divinity. Levandowski is no stranger to the wonders of AI. He founded Otto, a self-driving truck firm that Uber purchased and he has worked on Google’s self-driving car. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about advancements in artificial technology.
To aid him in his quest to create the world’s first artificial godhead, Levandowski has formed the Way of the Future. The nonprofit religious organization works to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through the understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”
Though the pioneer has yet to explicitly spell out the details of this new religious movement, it stands to reason that he has inspired others. Companies want to make the next big breakthrough in artificial intelligence. They want to stand out among the multitude of others trying to innovate. Who’s to say that humanity is not on the cusp of creating a pantheon of artificial gods?
You cannot go about programming an artificial god without stirring up a certain amount of controversy. The prospect of creating a sentient, omnipotent Tower of Babel scandalizes believers and nonbelievers alike.
Religious people across the globe look at the pursuit of an artificial god to be idolatry. If human beings begin to play God, they should expect the divine justice that religious texts describe. Creation of inorganic autonomous beings stands to disrupt traditional religions. Artificial intelligences would possess free will, challenging theology, and force a reexamination of faith in the wake of technological development.
Renowned technologist and futurist Elon Musk says that the unregulated development of artificial intelligences, especially those similar to Levandowski’s current mission, might mean the end of humanity. He, along with other moralists, philosophers, and scientists, push for the creation of a government board dedicated to the regulation and responsible development of intelligent robots. Musk has been critical of Levandowski, saying that if anyone were to pursue the creation of a digital godhead that the controversial former engineer for Google is the last one who should do it.
But, How Did We Get to This Point?
Though Levandowski is the first to form something of an actual religion out of artificial intelligence, the concept of god-like computers has persisted for decades. Many scholars and theorists believe that, in the not so distant future, artificial intelligence and robots will outpace people. Human beings will cease to be the dominant force on the planet. Technology will have reached “the singularity.”
You may have heard the term before, but it’s not just the stuff of science fiction anymore. A growing number of experts think that the once-hypothetical concept could become a reality before 2050. Machines begin to outpace human beings. Not only do they become superior in intelligence, but they enter into a cycle whereby they are constantly improving themselves at faster and faster rates. One need only look at the rates of exponential growth over the last several decades to see the possibility of this cycle. At some point, machines become so advanced that they become something like gods. It is not hard to imagine that human beings may deify the artificial intelligences it helped create.
There are some theorists who have drawn a distinct connection between existing organized religions and the future of artificial intelligence. Themes and lessons from holy texts rely on repetition. Similar stories and parables appear throughout the world’s divinely inspired books to instill a set of morals and values into people. Machines learn in the exact same way. Programmers and engineers expose intelligences to repetitive values in different context in order to facilitate genuine learning.
The parallels don’t stop there. Some have even stated that this singularity, this point at which messages have repeated enough times so that machines no longer need human beings, acts like a quasi-enlightenment. Digital enlightenment is not so different from a pilgrim meditating on lessons learned with degrees of failure and success. Robots could conceivably learn to the point where they can teach human beings.
Is it time for humanity to worship at the altar of technology? Do you think that artificial intelligence will ever reach a point where it is on par with more traditional deities? At what point do engineers and scientists need to stop experimenting and start implementing safeguards to make sure that machines don’t outpace human beings? There are many facets to this intersection of technology and theology. Share your thoughts and let us know where you stand on the growing church of computers.
Source for direct quote from Way of the Future Church