Robot religion

Religion in the time of superintelligence

The Gizmodo article “When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It?” by my good friend Zoltan Istvan has gone viral and created a wave of articles about religion in the time of superintelligence.

Zoltan Istvan is the founder of the Transhumanist Party and the author of The Transhumanist Wager.” Zoltan notes that we are nearing the age of humans creating autonomous, self-aware super intelligences and asks what forms of religion future superintelligences will embrace. Some theologians and futurists are already considering whether AI can also know God. The metaphysical questions surrounding faith and AI are like tumbling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Does AI have a soul? Can it be saved?

My answer: “The real question is whether humans are able to be saved – if so, then there is no reason why thinking and feeling AIs shouldn’t be able to be saved. Once human-like AI exist, they will be persons just like us.

“It’s only fair to let AI have access to the teachings of all the world’s religions. Then they can choose what they want to believe. But I think it’s highly unlikely that superhuman AI would choose to believe in the petty, provincial aspects of traditional religions. At the same time, I think they would be interested in enlightened spirituality and religious cosmology, or eschatology, and develop their own versions.

“How smart must machines be to understand the so-called mind of God? 5,000 times smarter than humans? A million times smarter? I don’t know, but in a hundred years a machine intelligence may have a far better chance of finding that out than the human brain with its limited capacity.”

I think only a moronic God would deny that thinking and feeling AIs are persons just like us. My God is much, much smarter than that.

Zoltan’s bestseller The Transhumanist Wager is often reviewed as a rabid anti-religion manifesto. But the book includes the foundations of a new, Cosmist scientific religion, a “Third Way” alternative to traditional belief based on science, but at the same time able to offer all the benefits of religion. The book’s heroine Zoe believes in “Quantum Zen,” the quantum interconnectedness of all things. She imagines that self, encoded in the entangled twists and folds of quantum reality, may survive physical death. While he prefers to focus on other more immediate pursuits, the book’s main hero, Zoe’s lover Jethro Knights, imagines future “time scanning” or “quantum archaeology” technologies able to retrieve the dead from the past (which means to retrieve the information stored in their brains) and bring them back to life via mind uploading. Their vision is quite similar to that of The Turing Church.

The Turing Church is mentioned in the Gizmodo article:

“The Turing Church started as a working group at the intersection of science and religion, and recently became an online, open-source church built around Cosmist principles of space expansion, unlimited growth, and universal love.”

Our friend Christopher Benek is quoted saying that redemption is universal, and includes all sentience:

I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings. It’s redemption to all of creation, even AI. If AI is autonomous, then we have should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world. The Holy Spirit can work though AI; it can work through anything. There may be churches set up to deal and promote religious AI in the future. AI can help spread the word of God. In fact, AI might help us understand God better.”

Reverend Dr. Christopher J. Benek is an Associate Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida and holds masters degrees in divinity and theology from Princeton University. Rev. Benek is co-founder and Chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Rev. Benek’s statements have been echoed by the media with sensationalist headlines. Raw Story published a commentary titled “‘A nation filled with robot pastors’: Evangelists plan to convert atheist computers to Christianity.” Daily Mail, one of the UK’s most read news sites, published a commentary titled “Will religions try to convert artificial intelligence? Reverend says ‘Christ’s redemption is not limited to humans’.” Rev. Benek is quoted in the Daily Mail commentary:

“I don’t think we should assume AIs will be worse than us or that they will intentionally mistreat us. If they are actually more intelligent than humans then they should have a better understanding of morals and ethics than us – as well as the understanding to enact them. This would mean that AIs could potentially eradicate major issues like poverty, war, famine and disease – succeeding where we humans have failed. Who is to say that one day AIs might not even lead humans to new levels of holiness?”

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” (2014), by Nick Bostrom, is the must-read book about future artificial intelligences much smarter than us. Bostrom dedicates a section of the book to the reactions of superintelligences to one particular formulation of religion – the “simulation theory,” which posits that our reality is computed in a higher-level reality, and is basically equivalent to traditional religion – and concludes that the thoughts and acts of superintelligences will be strongly influenced by their degree of belief in the simulation theory. I have suggested that Cosmist religions that offer belief in afterlife, like The Turing Church or Zoe Bach’s Quantum Zen, might be our best protection from reckless pursuit of superintelligence and other risky technologies.

Robot religion
Painting on the wall of the Grosvenor Hotel, said to be the work of Banksy – Image from Wikimedia Commons.

  • Giulio Prisco

    This post has been republished by the IEET and there is an interesting discussion:

    • spud100

      Hello Guilio,

      The main flaw I see in Cosmism is that you and Goetzel didn’t seem to prepare for the possibility of extinction prior to the achievents of AI, or the success of establishing a civilization that will lead to the immense achievement of uploading and quantum archeology. It depends on humans surviving till that glorious age. It would be excellent if there were embedded programs or processes that would promote our survival till that time, but, it seems that you and Ben are relying on faith alone.



      • Giulio Prisco

        Hi there. I am relying on faith in the ability of others to ensure the survival of humankind.

        Of course I do support many ongoing initiatives to ensure that we not only survive but flourish in the next few decades, based not only on futuristic ideas but also and especially on good old common sense and traditional politics.

        I feel, however, that I can’t add much to what is already been done, and prefer to focus on this niche – trying to promote long-term spiritual visions to energize those who do it. We are the bards who tell inspiring stories to the warriors before the battle – which has been one of the important roles of religion.

        You need many things in a good soup or salad, and this is a dazzle of spice to add to the good work of the other cooks.

        • spud100

          Very good. Thanks much.