Célio Fioretti looks at the implications of AI on our faith systems and the implications of such. 

With respectively 2.2 billion and 1.8 billion followers, Christianity and Islam are the two biggest religions in the world. Yet, the number of non-believers continues to grow in the West and are now the third biggest group of population (1.1 billion) before Hinduism and Judaism. According to the CSO, in 2016, 9.5% of Irish citizens declared themselves irreligious, an increase of 73.6 percent on the 2011 census. If traditional religions are decreasing in the western world, can we ask ourselves: Will something replace them? Silicon Valley multi-millionaire Anthony Levandowski has his answer to this.

This brilliant engineer is known for his work in Google self-driving car program, Waymo, later co-founding his own program named Otto and more recently, on 4th August, being sentenced to 18 months of jail for trade-secret theft from Google. Like many people in Silicon Valley, the French-American engineer believes in Singularity, the day when computers will surpass the human mind. “It is inevitable. It is guaranteed to happen” says Levandowki in an interview with the magazine Wired

Sure about this future, he decided to create in 2015 the “Way of the Future”, the first church of Artificial Intelligence dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence developed through computer hardware and software.” This new religion will even have its own gospel called The Manual. If a machine can usually only be seen as a tool, and not worthy of worship like a god, Anthony Levandowski explains that “It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”. The main objective of such an entity is, according to Levandowski himself, “the betterment of society”, but if it is created by humans, we are right to ask ourselves if any ideologies or bias will be implemented in this superior AI.

Anthony Levandowski answers that everything will be open source so that anyone can look into the code of this god-like AI. But if Levandowski wants the latter to be worshipped, he will need to build it. The church tries to win grants from private foundations to develop its AI and its self-proclaimed Dean, Levandowski hopes his AI will be operational in the coming years.

If it is true that AI will change our societies, economies, and daily life in the near future, the existence of a “strong AI” –an Artificial Intelligence superior to humans and capable of improving itself– through the Singularity remains unclear. Partisans of the Singularity such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk or the late Stephen Hawking, think that strong AI is soon to come, and it might be dangerous for humankind. Lots of debates about it have taken place,  lots of books have been sold on Amazon, but there is no evidence that an omnipotent AI will necessarily appear, and we cannot know for sure how it would work. 

Academics such as Drew McDermott, Computer Science teacher at Yale, and Theodore Modis, a now-retired researcher at the CERN, have criticized the idea of Singularity for its flawed scientific method and extrapolation. Other critics, such as Kevin Kelly, Wired chief-editor, mentions the difficulty to measure what intelligence really is and the limitations our world, in its resources, can bring to the progress of technologies.

If the rise of a god-like AI, through Singularity or Levandowski’s church, remains unclear, the future of AI promises to be interesting, not only for its technological progress but also the way we anticipate and fantasize them. 

Photo by Jenny Smith on Unsplash