This article was published in The Stream (July 6, 2022) under the title “The Church of Artificial Intelligence of the Future” and is republished with permission.
There is a church that worships artificial intelligence (AI). Zealots believe that an extraordinary AI future is inevitable. The technology is not here yet, but we are assured that it’s coming. We will have the ability to be uploaded onto a computer and thereby achieve immortality.
You will be reborn into a new, immortal silicon body.
Of course, through salvation in Jesus Christ, Christianity has offered a path to immortality for over two thousand years.
Someday, we are told, software will write better and better AI software to ultimately achieve a superintelligence. The superintelligence will become all-knowing and, thanks to the internet, omnipresent. Like immortality, superintelligence is also old theological news. The Abrahamic faiths have known about a superintelligence for a long time. It’s a characteristic of the God of the Bible.
A Cult is Growing
A materialistic cult is growing around the worship of AI. Although there are other AI holy writings, Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near looks to be the bible of the AI church. Kurzweil’s work is built on the foundation of faith in the future of AI. In the AI bible, we’re told that we are meat computers. Brother Kurzweil, not a member of any organized AI church, says, “consciousness is a biological process like digestion, lactation, photosynthesis, or mitosis.” Or, to paraphrase Descartes, “I lactate. Therefore, I think.”
Someday, we are told, software will write better and better AI software to ultimately achieve a superintelligence.
Anthony Levandowski, dubbed a Silicon Valley wunderkind, is the Apostle Paul of the AI Church. Like Paul, he starts churches. Levandowski founded the Way of the Future AI church. “[He] made it absolutely clear that his choice to make [the Way of the Future] a church rather than a company or a think tank was no prank,” writes one interviewer.
The first thing one does after founding a church in the United States is to apply to the IRS for tax exemption. In an epistle to the IRS, Levandowski offered his equivalent of the Apostle’s Creed: “[The AI Way of the Future church believes in] the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”
“Levandowski says that like other religions, [the Way of the Future] church will eventually have a gospel (called The Manual), a liturgy, and probably a physical place of worship.”
Does This Religion Condone Stealing?
This is not your everyday deity! Unlike the uncreated Creator of Judeo-Christian belief, Levandowski’s god is not eternal. The AI church requires “funding research to help create the divine AI itself.”
And apparently the AI church has no equivalent of the ten commandments. Especially the commandment about stealing. In his day job, Levandowski developed self-driving cars. He moved from Google’s self-driving car company, Waymo, to Uber’s research team. Then, in 2019, Levandowski was indicted for stealing trade secrets from Google. Before leaving Google in 2016, he copied 14,000 files onto his laptop. Uber fired him in 2017 when they found out.
In 2020, Levandowski pled guilty and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He was also ordered to pay a $95,000 fine and $756,499.22 to Google. (One wonders where the 22 cents came from.) The judge in the case, William Alsup, observed that “this is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen. This was not small. This was massive in scale.” Levandowski later declared bankruptcy because he owed Google an additional $179 million for his crime. His church folded.
Levandowski was granted a full pardon by Donald Trump on Trump’s last day in office. In Christianity, forgiveness involves repentance and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as payment. In the AI church, forgiveness apparently comes from Donald Trump.
Human Attributes That Can’t Be Computed
Levandowski and Kurzweil are materialists. When Kurzweil was asked whether God exists, he appealed to Levandowki’s canon law and replied, “Well. I would say, not yet.” Both Levandowski and Kurzweil believe the brain is the same as the mind (i.e. we are meat computers).
Most Christians on the other hand are so-called dualists and believe there are wonderful things happening in the mind that can’t be explained by computer code. Some obvious examples of these are joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, fear, shame, shyness and guilt. Less obvious, when properly defined, are creativity, understanding and sentience. These are human attributes that can’t be computed and are forever beyond the reach of AI.
Robert J. Marks is Distinguished Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University, the Director of The Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence and the author of Non-Computable You: What You Do Artificial Intelligence Never Will.