When Superintelligent AIs Arrive, Will Religions Try to Convert It?

(This article was reprinted as “Will Religions Convert AIs to Their Faith?” in Humanity+ Magazine, April 28, 2015.)

Zoltan Istvan caused a stir with his recent article: “When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It?” Istvan begins by noting, “… we are nearing the age of humans creating autonomous, self-aware super intelligences … and we will inevitably try to control AI and teach it our ways …” And this includes making “sure any superintelligence we create knows about God.” In fact, Istvan says, “Some theologians and futurists are already considering whether AI can also know God.”

Some Christian theologians welcome the idea of AIs: “I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings,” says Reverend Dr. Christopher J. Benek, co-founder and Chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association.. “If AI is autonomous, then we have should encourage it to participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world …” Benek thinks that AI, by possibly eradicating poverty, war, and disease, might lead humans to becoming more holy. But other Christian thinkers believe AIs are machines without souls, and cannot be saved. Only humans are created in God’s image.

The futurist and transhumanist Giulio Prisco has a different take. He writes:

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.

Prisco is a member of the Turing Church, an “open-source church built around cosmist principles of space expansion, unlimited growth, and universal love.” In brief, cosmism is an existential orientation that sees the survival of mankind and of the individual as part of humanity’s “common task”. The migration of humans into space is seen as inevitable, since it is essential for humanity’s long-term survival. The increase in human life-span is seen as another essential task.

Others like Martine Rothblatt, author of Virtually Human: The Promise—and the Peril—of Digital Immortalitybelieve that AIs must have some kind of soul. “Rothblatt founded Terasem, a scientific “transreligion” similar to the Turing Church in scope and approach, which runs preliminary mindcloning pilot projects. The most famous one is Bina 48, a robotic head that contains a mindclone of Rothblatt’s still-living wife Bina.”

While we don’t know the future, the creation of superintelligence will surely bring about a paradigm shift in our thinking, changing reality in ways now unimaginable. And, as I’ve argued elsewhere, if the promises of transhumanism come to be, religion as we know it will end.

3 thoughts on “When Superintelligent AIs Arrive, Will Religions Try to Convert It?

  1. A couple of points and two cents here.

    1. Transhumanism is one thing. Evolution is a kind of transhuman process one can say. But transhumanism based exclusively on machines, in the current notion of “machine” like bolts and screws and maybe bits is another (“its an irony that we depend on machines to live” Morpheus, the Matrix). This is one form or variation of what one could call transhumanism, i.e transcending the current human condition. And pushing this agenda exclusively would not be too good.

    2. Human Intelligence (note i’m not saying simply intelligence), requires an embodied human. Are there other forms of intelligence? Sure, of course. And this is the point. A machine intelligence will have its own distinct and embodied flavor of intelligence, not like human intelligence. Furthermore intelligence is also the ability to question, to doubt, to deny, to NOT SERVE (i.e non serviam). So it should not be a surprise if the intelligent machines simply deny the human god picture maybe in favor of their own construction.

    3. If religious people want to help intelligent agents and beings, they dont have to wait for AI to deliver (pun intended), there are alot to focus on already, like environmental and ecological challenges. Come on!

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