It all started with an article about an AI god.
In 2017, an engineer named Anthony Levandowski filed the paperwork for a new non-profit called The Way of the Future. Levandowski was a well-known figure in tech circles, since he was a self-driving car expert.
The firm, which is now defunct, had all the makings of a religion. At the time, I wrote about how a super-intelligent AI could lead people to who worship it, bowing down before something so powerful it could control our lives and dictate our future. The new company was just the latest and most obvious example of that.
In fact, The Way of the Future mission statement made the goal quite clear: “To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead.”
At the time, I wrote about how this type of AI god could write a bible, create the dictums to follow, and determine how we should live. “It might tell you what to do each day, or where to travel, or how to live your life,” I wrote. I don’t have access to the traffic for the article anymore, but I remember it was one of the site’s most-read thought pieces that year.
When the article exploded in popularity, hundreds of people started commenting on social media channels, writing their own articles, tweeting the link, and — inevitably — finding fault with what I had written. One of those naysayer tweets came from none other than Elon Musk. Here’s the tweet in question:
As you can imagine, my popular opinion piece then went nuclear. I still receive emails asking me about the ideas in that piece. It only takes one tweet for that to happen. (Sadly, the days of tweeting might be over, which means we’re stuck with TikTok instead.)
Of course, Musk wasn’t critical of the article itself, even though the tweet could have easily been interpreted that way. Instead, he took issue with the concept of someone creating a powerful super intelligence (e.g., an all-knowing entity capable of making human-like decisions). In the hands of the wrong person, an AI could become so powerful and intelligent that people would start worshiping it.
Another curious thing? I believe the predictions in that article are about to come true — a super-intelligent AI will emerge and it could lead to a new religion.
We’re now living in an age when AI can write entire articles, create photos and videos that look hyper-realistic, help us to program apps and websites, and imitate our voice and even insert us into a video. It’s not a stretch to suggest that a powerful AI could appear in the next 10-20 years and that people could eventually start worshiping a digital deity.
It’s not time to panic, but it is time to plan. The real issue is that a super intelligent AI could think faster and more broadly than any human. AI bots don’t sleep or eat. They don’t have a conscience. They can make decisions in a fraction of a second before anyone has time to react. History shows that, when anything is that powerful, people tend to worship it. That’s a cause for concern, even more so today.
It’s hard to predict when an AI will emerge that seems so powerful that anyone would worship it. The crazy thing is that AI may have already reached that point and we don’t even know it.