The recent scandal concerning Facebook and Cambridge Analytica confirms that Facebook (directly or indirectly, through idleness) enabled the rise of Donald Trump to power and the actions of Russian hackers who acquired user information from Facebook and used it to manipulate public opinion and spread disinformation. The controversy is only beginning to stir up, and already people like Elon Musk–who has over five million followers on FB–erased both his personal and business Facebook accounts, citing “two visions” for the uses of artificial intelligence (AI) that are incompatible.
Access to data gives power. Some AI’s comb through huge amounts of financial data and are being used by day traders to identify patterns and opportunities. There certainly are both wholesome and dangerous uses for artificial intelligence technology. We see many warnings about the dangers of AI getting out of control in science fiction folklore: from “I, Robot”, to the Dune series–the events of which take place long after computers had caused a huge cataclysm and were banned by the survivors–, to the insinuation in Star Wars that the most human-like, friendly, non-threatening, useful and trustworthy of robots should have certain “domestication” protocols in their program.
“It is against my protocol to impersonate deity.” – C3PO
But some people are bold. And, as has been reported now for some time, a new church known as Way of the Future (aka WotF, aka the Church of the Latter-Day Ewoks–I’m joking, but I think that’ll catch on!) intends to literally create an AI God. Cult members believe that it is inevitable that some artificial intelligence will emerge in the next few decades that will have a brain capacity thousands of times greater than humans, and that that can only be considered a deity. This is a different, more purposeful and daring version of what many futurists call the Singularity. Furthermore, advocates instill fear of their God by arguing that we will want to be friendly to it, to placate it, since the new Deity will favor those who have favored it throughout its development. The new religion’s founder, Anthony Levandowski, said in an interview with Wired:
“If you had a child you knew was going to be gifted, how would you want to raise it?” he asks. “We’re in the process of raising a god. So let’s make sure we think through the right way to do that. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”
It is clear that the future A.I. Deity will not be programmed with C3PO’s “domesticated” protocol. Now, consider the prospects of this AI God in light of the political ambitions and feats of Russian hackers in recent years, and you can begin to see the dangers of an Old-Testament-style tribal, vindictive Deity–one that favors those who favor it, and so has a “chosen people”–meddling in human and political affairs, dismantling the democratic processes we have put in place, and exploiting the vulnerabilities and psychological traits of mortals that religions have always exploited. It becomes quickly clear that it **does** indeed serve our interests to inform and influence how this project evolves, as that there are many potential dangers if this goes wrong. Clearly, the future A.I. Deity will not be a “deity” in the belief of many, but since it will believe itself to be one, it might as well be.
As for myself, I side with our beloved Star Wars sidekick C3PO on this one: it should be against the protocol of all computers to impersonate Deity. In fact, that should be an official doctrine of the anti-Ewok heretics of this curious future we are weaving for ourselves. I remain–for the time being–pretty skeptical about any pantheon of A.I. Deities. Machines, in the ideal world, should always and only serve humans, and not the other way around. On a lighter note, I leave you with a “Latter Day Ewok” meme!