Summoning the Demon: Worshiping Artificial Intelligence
The “Way of the Future” is the way of the past
“And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands.” (Jer. 1:16)
Thus spoke the Lord to Jeremiah concerning the cities of Judah who had rebelled against Him and had committed idolatries. It is human nature to worship idols, and in times past that often included literal idols. In the West, due mainly to Christian influence, the practice of worshipping physical idols has been largely abandoned for many centuries. But today, the Christian foundations of the West are crumbling away as more and more people forsake God (just as the Jews did in Jeremiah’s day). With this shift away from Christianity, we find another shift—back to the practice of worshiping the works of our own hands. This time, one of the forms this may take is the worship of artificial intelligence.
Multi-millionaire Silicon Valley engineer Anthony Levandowski has made headlines in recent years by announcing a new official religion: the Way of the Future.1 It is Levandowski’s contention that the human race is currently building artificial-intelligence that is so powerful it will become like a god compared to humanity, and will eventually assume control over this planet. This is an event he calls The Transition.2 As he puts it,
“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?”2
Levandowski envisions a world where we become subservient to our new AI master(s), but, he hopes, we will be treated nicely because the AI will fondly remember us as its/their benevolent (but frail) elders. If you think this sounds like the plot of more than one science-fiction movie, you would not be wrong! But Levandowski appears to be dead serious, having registered this new church with the IRS to receive tax-exempt status.
Interestingly, the trappings of this new religion all appear to be ripped off from the Bible. For example, note the obviously Christian-sounding nature of this quote from Levandowski:
“The church is how we spread the word, the gospel. If you believe, start a conversation with someone else and help them understand the same things.”2
Scanning through the extremely rudimentary ‘church’ website that still exists at the moment, the Way of the Future cult has co-opted all the familiar superficial talking-points one might expect to hear from one of the New Atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, etc.):
“We believe in science (the universe came into existence 13.7 billion years ago and if you can’t re-create/test something it doesn’t exist). There is no such thing as ’supernatural‘ powers.”
This is nothing other than the philosophy of positivism and materialism, which embarrassingly fails its own test. Can you perform an experiment to determine if positivism is true? Note also the prominent mention of deep time here.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
This talking-point is so often abused by atheists that I wrote an article specifically addressing it. What counts as ‘extraordinary’ depends upon what worldview you already have, making this circular and subjective.
“We believe it may be important for machines to see who is friendly to their cause and who is not. We plan on doing so by keeping track of who has done what (and for how long) to help the peaceful and respectful transition.”
This is almost too ridiculous to comment on, but the author(s) appear to be serious here. They think the machines apparently will have some sort of ethic or honour system whereby they will reward those humans (i.e. these cult members) who have helped them ascend to power the most. This is literally the same mindset shared by the henchmen of all the stereotypical villains in fantasy and sci-fi—“once I help [villain] take over the world, he’ll put me in charge of something good!”
“We believe that intelligence is not rooted in biology. While biology has evolved one type of intelligence, there is nothing inherently specific about biology that causes intelligence. Eventually, we will be able to recreate it without using biology and its limitations. From there we will be able to scale it to beyond what we can do using (our) biological limits (such as computing frequency, slowness and accuracy of data copy and communication, etc).”
Of course, this is just their statement of faith, but what evidence could they possibly have for these claims? Other than God and angels (whom they deny), what example do we have of ‘intelligence not rooted in biology’? Ironically, I believe they are partially correct. Intelligence is not necessarily rooted in biology because it is spiritual! It is the fact that intelligent beings are spiritual beings that enables us to make free decisions in the first place. Consciousness is not an emergent property of matter—it is a function of the spirit. For this reason, I don’t believe it is realistic to assume that any form of machine or artificial intelligence will ever become truly self-aware.
However, as Elon Musk said, with AI “we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.”3
Just how literally and seriously did Musk intend these statements to be taken? Regardless, it would seem that Levandowski and others believe that if they worship the demon the demon will be kind to them. The real problem is not the development of AI technology itself (which could theoretically be put to good and moral uses), but the unbiblical ideas that consciousness is merely a function of matter, and that it would ever be appropriate to worship a machine. The Bible says that whenever humans worship idols of their own making, they are really worshiping demons:
“ … what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.” 1 Corinthians 10:20
What does it take to truly summon a demon? There are some out there that are actively working towards that goal. We know from the Bible that demons are very real, and they really can inhabit bodies—even the bodies of animals (c.f. Matthew 8:28-34). But whether or not demons could literally inhabit a machine, the worship of anything other than God is truly demonic.
This particular cult (Way of the Future) may not go anywhere—after all, their leader Levandowski has now been charged with theft of trade secrets in a court battle between Google and Uber, and his future status is uncertain.4 Clearly, though, the cultural stage has been set via the false doctrine of evolutionism and an uncritical absorption of the messaging in many sci-fi movies. Expect more AI-worship cults to follow.
References and notes
- Harris, M., God Is a Bot, and Anthony Levandowski Is His Messenger, wired.com, 27 September 2017. Return to text.
- Harris, M., Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence, wired.com, 15 November 2017. Return to text.
- McFarland, M., Elon Musk: ‘With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.’, washingtonpost.com, 24 October 2014.. Return to text.
- Korosec, K., Anthony Levandowski, former Google engineer at center of Waymo-Uber case, charged with stealing trade secrets, techcrunch.com, 27 August 2019. Return to text.