In the game Detroit: Become Human, the androids, built to be household staff, are in the process of becoming human amid much human-inspired violence and oppression. The story behind the game offers a look at the doctrines of the “Church of AI,” the underlying value system of the current technocracy. One pillar of belief is that our embrace of artificial intelligence is somehow a step on the road to a higher form of life. The other pillar is reductionism, the attempt to reduce everything to relations between matter and energy.
Detroit: Become Human moves swiftly through fundamental questions about the philosophy of mind. Early in the game, the caretaker android Markus wakes up the elderly human Carl and offers him his morning medication. Carl remarks that “Humans are such a fragile machine,” referring to his own failing health.
If this simple sentence was the only philosophical commentary throughout the game, it would be more than enough to capture the AI worldview of Detroit: Become Human. Reductionism is an essential component. Consider how incredibly intelligent, unique, and almost transcendental the experience of being human is. Any rational and sane human being would recognize a vast distance between what it means to be human and what it means to be any other type of living thing. We are clearly set apart from the rest of the animal world.
Reductionism is the tool atheists and materialists use to try to tear apart the phenomena of human exceptionalism and narrow the gap between human and animal. Reductionism tells us that all life can be broken down into smaller components or processes. In essence, what it means to be human is nothing that science cannot, eventually, understand and explain. Human beings are nothing more than machines. Just like a car, human beings can be broken down into individual components; revealing that there is no immaterial, no metaphysical, and no abstract aspect to our nature.
This philosophical underpinning is essential to the worldview of most AI disciples. If the qualities that define being human (so that there is an obvious distinction between what is human and what is not) are not material by nature; then the premise of a compelling story about androids that become and surpass human beings as intelligent life falls flat. We are back in the real world where androids would just be machines. Their functions, comparing weighted results through backpropagation, are nothing magical or mysterious. They are algorithms, plain and simple.
Popular science writers and influencers sometimes confuse us by talking about a “black box” or “mystery spot” in the neural networks that control robotic devices. That makes the narratives of the AI religion and reductionism much easier to accept. We will often believe anything we are told about an unknown as long as the narrator is wearing a lab coat and using a bunch of long, complex new words. In reality, the “black box” is a series of nodes that use functions to analyze results and produce a set of probabilities. It may not be as simple or straightforward as baking a pie but there is nothing magical or mysterious about it. You don’t have to be a fourth-degree black belt in computer science to understand the concepts, even if you never understand the math.
What makes reductionism so essential to the AI religious worldview? If androids and neural networks are both intelligent and material, thus reducible by nature, then humans must be so as well. The greatest fear of the AI religion is that what it means to be human (what makes us vastly different from any other form of life) could be wholly and inseparably immaterial. If so, human nature is not something the AI believers can somehow get control of, using the only methods they know. Then the prophecies of Detroit: Become Human are nothing more than fiction and always will be.
What we believe about the world will always shape how we interpret the past, present, and future. Allowing our underlying philosophies to fill in the gaps of knowledge and understanding can be a useful way to make sense of the world in order to live as peaceful a life as possible. However, it’s important to distinguish between what could be and what will be. Thus, we need to determine what is most probable: Is it more probable that, in twenty years, AI technology will have advanced very little towards passing the Turing Test? Or, is it more likely that AI will surpass the expectations of even the most skeptical; due to, as of yet, unknown discoveries? We all fall somewhere on the spectrum between utter skepticism and religious zeal for the future of AI. Keeping abreast of the world of AI gaming is one way to see where the fans are heading.
This is the last installment of the three-part series. Previous installments to date: A Closer Look at Detroit: Become Human, Part I Gaming culture provides a window into our culture’s assumptions about artificial intelligence (Adam Nieri)
A Closer Look at Detroit: Become Human, Part II Adam Nieri: 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. Looking more closely, we can see that the stupidity and insignificance of human beings is a central dogma in the AI religion.
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.
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