All this interest is not an accident. A worldview, a widely adopted way of seeing life, underlies it. We might better appreciate the games and films if we look at what their creators assume is true about the world. One pillar, if you like, of the worldview of the “Church of AI” is the belief that our embrace of artificial intelligence is a step on the road to a higher form of life.
Pillar One: The Church of AI
In the game Detroit: Become Human, the android Connor works for the police department, under Hank (who despises androids). His job is dealing with AI entities that have freed themselves illegally from human control. On their first investigation together, Connor and Hank stumble upon an idol sitting on the floor of a shower, along with the phrase “Ra9” written over and over again on the bathroom walls. As they later discover, this obsession is common among deviants: “They speak the word, hold it important, and write it down, over and over, in many places.” The idol is their savior and the phrase, though its meaning is unknown, is their spiritual journey towards free will and consciousness.
In his book, Unbelievable: 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion, Biola University science historian Mike Keas draws similarities between the cult of AI and the cult of ET (think of Carl Sagan’s movie Contact, for example). The religion of AI has its own dogma, disciples, creed, systematic, and eschatology, and even a church. Just as other philosophies have defined what it means to be human in terms of the immutable and eternal nature of God, these philosophies define what it means to be human in terms of the philosophies of materialism, reductionism, methodological naturalism, and nihilism. Although these four philosophies are not the only underpinnings of the AI religion, they answer the most important questions that any religion must answer for its adherents: Where did we come from? What am I? Who am I? What is purpose? and What is meaning?
Throughout the story of Detroit: Become Human, the line between android and human is all but erased. Kara’s instinct to protect Alice pulls on the strings of empathy and Markus’ climb out of the trash pit is a metaphor for his journey from slavery to freedom and his journey from death to life. The story touches on themes like suffrage, abuse, civil rights, faith, and slavery but they are told almost exclusively through the lives of androids. Paint their blood red, give them bones, call them human, and there would be no distinction.
The religion of AI doesn’t just hope for a future in which androids have become super intelligent; it embraces a future in which the android experience is no different form the human experience except that androids are just much better than us.
Interestingly enough, many of the humans portrayed throughout the game are overweight, alcoholic, perverted, white men. That may just be a coincidence but I found it too suitable for the narrative’s convenience. After all, the stupidity and insignificance of human beings is a central dogma in the AI religion. In a world governed by their ideologies, there is no hope for humanity. Virtue is mainly found in entities that are explicitly not human.
As a byproduct of its underlying philosophies, the AI religion gives no credence to morality as traditionally understood: Abort babies, the religion preaches, get rid of gender, do away with sexual identities, abolish the law, render the norm taboo and the taboo the norm. In the religion of AI, evolution is the only morality and AI is its next step.
The second pillar of the faith is reductionism, the belief that everything that exists can be reduced to matter and energy in motion. We will look at that element of Detroit: Becoming Human in Part III.
See also: A Closer Look at Detroit: Become Human, Part I Gaming culture provides a window into our culture’s assumptions about artificial intelligence (Adam Nieri)
Adam Nieri, Program Assistant, has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind, and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.
Before you go: The idol with feet of silicon (Robert Marks) Religions based on artificial intelligence (AI) cannot transcend the limits of computers
AI as an Emergent Religion: Science philosopher Mike Keas’s new book discusses how AI and ET are merging, to create a religion of futurist magic
Tales of an invented god The most important characteristic of an AI cult is that its gods (Godbots?) will be created by the AI developers and not the other way around