THE TRANSHUMANIST SCRAPBOOK: BAPTIZING ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE…February 20, 2015
It may seem we've departed from all of this past week's preoccupation with outer space, ETs, UFOs, and "out there" high octane speculation with this one, but there's method in my madness in considering this article that was shared by Mr. V.T. As you might recall, there's also been some discussion of late on artificial intelligence, on the scenario that, somehow and sometime, a massively parallel computing system might "wake up" and show signs of artifical intelligence, or, to be more blunt, of individuality and personality, rather like the scenario in famous science fiction author Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where the lunar supercomputer, "Mike", wakes up, or like "HAL" in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 Space Odyssey. But neither man gave much thought to the implication of such an event for religion: would religions welcome such an event? Would they baptize or bar-(or would that be bat-) mitzvah such a machine (or more crudely, if the machine showed inclinations to become Jewish, circumsize it?).
It should come as no surprise that such questions are being bandied about already:
Now, for my part, I remain skeptical that such an event is even possible, for reasons I shall not get into here, though on this website we often speculate about such things during our "members' vidchats". But assuming such to be possible (I entertaint that possibility, again, for reasons I shall not get into here), what might be the result?
I suggest that this article contains one possibility, and one which, upon reflection, calls into question the whole nature of such an event:
"Another of Istvan's interview subjects, the Christian theologian James McGrath, believes that a religiously indoctrinated computer could "seek to enforce all the Biblical legislation in every detail," which is extremely troubling. Religious fundamentalists are freaky enough when they're (mostly) harmless. Imagine if they were armed with super human cognition and connected to every computer system on Earth.
"You can't really have a discussion about AI these days without dwelling on the harbingers of eventual human doom. If a religious fundamentalist robot were to emerge and want to enforce the Bible to the strictest letter of the law (so long, shellfish!), it's likely other similar forms of AI bent on admonishing, enslaving, or eradicating humanity would necessarily also exist, each with their own agendas. Religion and advanced AI may or may not be compatible. If so, it's unlikely it would be the only mortal threat to humanity."
A machine-like intelligence, not possessed of the emotional content of human intelligece, the ability to draw subtle distinctions or see and act upon exceptions, would be the perfect and ideal candidate for "fundamentalism," and I doubt very many people would want to live under systems of Old Testment or Koranic enforcements of law to the absolute letter and - to paraphrase a biblical expression - to the last jot and tittle.
Which raises an intriguing point of its own, for within at least the Christian tradition, there are old liturgical and patristic texts, many of them no longer in popular use, that suggest that this obsession of the letter of the law and its absolute fulfillment was less a characteristic of God, than of the devil, a cold, hard, rigorous Intelligence focussed on such rigidity and devoid of the ability to see with empathy anything beyond its own, cosmically-sized Narcissism and Ego. And thus the point that such speculators seem to ignore, that, however, Elon Musk was alive to when he suggested dangers - even invoking the language of the devil - and that the Rev. McGrath is alluding to: if such an event were to occur, there is no prima facie reason that such an event would summon or transduce a "good" personality.
Perhaps Arthur C. Clarke had it right, for when his HAL "woke up," he proved to be less than tolerant of humans in his behavior. And as for Robert Heinlein's "Mike," well, he, like the archangel whose name he shared, was involved in a war, bombarding the Earth with large rocks from the Moon, before he curiously "went back to sleep."
See you on the flip side...