Nietzsche, if alive today, will probably be convinced that artificial intelligence will be the final nail in the coffin of god (reference to his famous statement: god is dead).
Nietzsche’s controversial statement, which is widely understood to be referring to the concept that science will diminish the role and belief system related to religions (the rise of nihilism), can be resurrected to analyze the developments in AI.
Religion has been an extremely important part of our species. From the recent archeological findings in Gobekli Tepe (Turkey), experts now believe that 11,000 years ago, before humans settled into organized farming communities, hunters and gatherers erected a temple for worship (1). If true, clearly, spirituality and religion predate even the formation of farming communities. It means that religion plays such an important role in our lives that before we built our own homes, we built homes to hoist gods and goddesses.
It is natural for a conscious entity to question its existence and the inception of its existence, and the concept of god provides consolation and answers that allow us to sleep better at night without having to worry about these otherwise unanswered questions. In fact, it goes beyond that and provides us answers to what happens after death – which in some ways allows us to die with less fear and for our loved ones to find peace in the idea that we are at a better place.
As we are confronted with artificial intelligence – a technology with the ability to learn and potentially having the ability to develop some level of consciousness (perhaps even self-awareness) – it will raise many questions for the traditional religion. For example:
- Humans have now become god. The creation is now the creator. How would that impact our belief systems?
- When the creation can create entities that can be intellectually (and physically) stronger than itself, then what would happen to the belief systems based upon the concept of an omnipotent god?
- When humans – who have always been proud of their unique gift of higher intelligence and self-consciousness – and hence the ability to recognize god – will now encounter another intelligent entity, would the idea of god stumble?
- Would the miracle of god’s creation lose its charm and get overwhelmed by the presence of another intelligent species?
- Would we teach machines about the belief systems and religions? If yes, which or whose religion would they learn?
In the past, the emergence of new technologies has given us two polar opposite perspectives. In the first, we have deviated away from traditional religion, and in the other we have come closer to god and found god through technology.
For example, technology has given us the ability to travel conveniently to lands of faith (Jerusalem, Mecca, Vatican) or to download books of faith and scriptures on our mobile devices. While some of us saw science as the new god, others found god through technology. Perhaps our ideas about god changed. Perhaps technology has dogmatized us even more or perhaps it has made us more tolerant and understanding towards each other.
While AI applications may lead us to question our belief systems – but long before that happens, I see the application of AI to enhance, preserve, expand, and propagate religion. For example, in the near term, I see the AI applications to:
- Develop intellectual capacity to engage in religious debates. People will argue using more data from scriptures, train algorithms to acquire religious knowledge, and compare (and make subjective assessment or objective analysis) between various fields and scriptures.
- We can see the rise of sermon robots or personalized spiritual guides. As we can download moral guidance apps, we will have moral guiding agents that will probably evaluate and render judgment on our daily interactions and actions.
- Applications that will use data to study our behavior and market to us religion and religions messages.
Of course that would introduce further complexities in the role of AI in our society. Would we teach AI to be biased when it comes to certain values? Would we make AI so much like us that eventually AI will carry the same weaknesses as we do?
So while Nietzsche could be holding god’s death certificate ready to be signed, I think it is premature.
As we go forward, we will explore the above concepts of religion and spirituality presented in this article.