(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
A Conclusion: Religion in the Age of A.I.
Humans have been expecting a supernatural event of some kind or another since prehistory. Human brains seem to be programmed to believe in the supernatural and to strive for immortality.
As mentioned at the beginning of this book, we are witnessing the birth of a new religion, a religion that believes in a supernatural world that exists not in this universe, not in the heavens, but in the dataverse.
According to this new "religion", A.I. will generate a kind of supernatural intelligence that will rule over the human world.
In retrospect, ancient religions were realistic: they admitted that we all have to die and looked for hope in the afterlife. This was an empirical and rational approach. The narrative of the Singularity denies the obvious: that everything has an ending. This is neither empirical (there is no evidence of eternal immortal beings) nor rational (there is no science that would justify something living longer than the lifetime of the universe, or, for that matter, just the lifetime of the Sun).
Rationality is under attack from both the right and the left, the "right" being modern spirituality and the "left" being the Singularity camp.
The modern spirituality (the "right") largely rejects the superstitions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in favor of Daoism and Buddhism, the two philosophies (not quite religions) that seem to best match what we know about the universe; and the two philosophies that have been prominent in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1960s, i.e. the two that Silicon Valley naturally encountered as it abstracted technology into a philosophy of life. The "right" was born approximately with Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics" (1975), written by a physicist, and Michael Singer's bestseller "The Untethered Soul" (2007) or William Broad's "The Science of Yoga" (2012) are typical examples of its mature stage, leaving behind attempts to merge spirituality and physics such as Deepak Chopra's "Quantum Healing" (1989) and Danah Zohar‘s "The Quantum Self" (1990), co-written with a physicist.
The "left" is part of a more general movement that thinks of the universe as ruled by data. Israeli historian Yuval Harari calls it a new religion, Dataism, in his book "Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind" (2011). This "left" has faith in science, and notably in computer science. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 a whopping 89% of US adults believed in some kind of god (in Europe we estimate that number to be about 77%), but very few of them are looking forward to the afterlife. Most of them are terrorized by the idea of dying. Their real religion is medicine, and, indirectly, science. They tolerate scientific research in chemistry, biology, physics and the likes because they hope that it will contribute to progress in medicine. They were happy that in 1993 the government killed an expensive project to build the world's fastest particle accelerator (the "Superconducting Supercollider") and that in 2011 the government shut down the most powerful particle accelerator in the country (the Tevatron); but tell them that accelerating hadrons will prolong their lives and they will gladly pay taxes for the most expensive particle accelerator ever built. Tell them that space exploration will prolong their lives and they will gladly pay taxes for a mission to Saturn. Tell them that Artificial Intelligence will grant them immortality, and that a super-human intelligence (the Singularity) is truly coming soon, and they react the way Jews, Christians and Muslims used to react to the news that the Messiah is coming: fear and hope; fear that the Messiah will send us to hell (a well-deserved hell, judging from my favorite history books) and hope that the Messiah will be so merciful to grant us immortality.
I also submit that much of the "exponential progress" that we witness today is due to the retreat of religious institutions. Religious institutions, whether in the Catholic world or in the Islamic world, mostly resisted governments. They would not support and sometimes not even protect scientists, engineers, philosophers and physicians who hinted in any way that the soul does not exist or that it is a mere manifestation of electrochemical brain processes. Religion is naturally hostile to technological and scientific progress because progress distracts from the foundation of religious morality, the soul,
besides clearly upsetting the traditional social life upon which priests rely for their power. Therefore, we live inside an infinite loop: religions decline, their decline fosters scientific and technological progress, progress causes religion to decline, etc. No wonder that belief in spiritual superbeings is rapidly being replaced by belief in a technological superbeing.
Traditional religions worked well when there was no hope for a remedy to death. Hence the only remedy was faith in a god's mercy. The new technological religion offers a terrestrial remedy to death: terrestrial longevity if not immortality. Whether this new religion is any more realistic than the ancient Western religions is debatable; and whether the Singularity or the Messiah or nobody will come to rescue us rests to be seen.
The Singularity risks becoming the new religion for the largely atheistic crowd of the high-tech world. Just like with Christianity and Islam, the eschatological mission then becomes how to save oneself from damnation when the Singularity comes, balanced by the faith in some kind of resurrection.
We've seen this movie before, haven't we?
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