Is AI The Answer To Life, The Universe, And Everything?
It may seem a bit of an odd title, but given the profusion of news around the subject in 2017, it’s something worth pausing over. In September, the news across the tech community was that Anthony Levandowski (Silicon Valley computer scientist and futurist) has founded a religious group, Way of the Future, based on the premise of an AI deity.
Earlier in the year, there was also a piece by Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic about whether artificially intelligent robots could be better Christians than humans. And now, everyone’s favourite TV geek, Adam Savage, of MythBusters fame, has compared science fiction to a religious experience. There are groups from Silicon Valley to London investigating and investing in technology for consciousness expansion.
Not even mentioning the time and energy going into automation and the development of technology in industry and leisure alike, it seems that many of us are considering technology, whether it be conscious machines or our increasingly intelligent smartphones, the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
We’ve all found ourselves, in dark and lonely moments, instinctively picking up our smartphone and browsing our apps and news feeds, half expecting an answer to our dilemmas to materialise from within the sacred screen. Head bowed, hands clasped together around our digital prayer book, we wonder whether ‘there’s an app for that’.
Our society is increasingly secular. Science, technology, philosophy, observation of the world generally, has led us to question the existence of some all-powerful being. In a world half-broken by injustice, war, and suffering, and our unprecedented access to news about it all, it’s little wonder. If this is God’s will, who is this God that allows this misery? Could we do a better job ourselves?
A surprising number of the world’s best scientific minds are banking on mind upload to an everlasting virtual reality as the solution to mortality. We simply cannot bear the darkness beyond the grave, and our lost faith means we plan to do something about it. It’s all symptomatic of the human condition that we should seek these solutions, and many of us need something to believe in. Maybe, then, we really could make artificial intelligence our God.
AI could be that force that’s several times more intelligent than us which can provide the answers to our deepest questions, show us the right path to take, save us from ourselves. By the same token, however, we’re scared that the AI God we create could turn against us. That it could see our failings and decide the universe is better of without us. We are profoundly insecure, racked with guilt, desperate for salvation or damnation.
This post doesn’t seek to find an answer, nor to condemn or affirm the people seeking something to believe in. After all, a religion is a religion is a religion. Perhaps we will never be inoculated against our desire for higher meaning. Either way, a new spirituality is afoot. Let’s just hope the answer isn’t 42.