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The Idol with Feet of Silicon

Religions based on artificial intelligence (AI) cannot transcend the limits of computers

Those proclaiming that exclusive truth lives totally in naturalism are constrained by a sadly narrow view of the world. Some naturalists have put their faith in AI and have founded the AI Church. They may think they are doing something new and cutting edge but as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun (1:9).

The AI Church claims that human minds will soon be uploaded into a computer and thereby achieve immortality. This is old news. Christianity has offered the path to immortality for thousands of years.

We are told that AI software itself will someday write better and better software so as to achieve superintelligence. This is also old news. The Judeo-Christian faiths have known about a superintelligence for a long time. It’s a characteristic of God.

Although there are other holy works, Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology is the Bible of the AI church. Kurzweil’s work is built on the foundation of faith in AI, from which he offers us provocative, speculative, and hyperbolic prophecies. His predictions are often so far in the future that they escape any immediate scrutiny.

Anthony Levandowski, a self-driving car wunderkind and founder of the Way of the Future  is the Apostle Paul of the AI Church.1 In an epistle to the IRS for tax exemption, he offered his equivalent of the Apostles’ Creed: “[The AI Church believes in] the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Only a few AI professionals worship at the altar of AI. Those who do are curious outliers and, in the world of website clickbait, they get a lot of visibility. Their philosophy might look weird, but in this postmodernist world, many ask, who is to say who is right?

In A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking claims that nothing in physics is ever proven. We simply accumulate evidence. The same is true with faith or, using a term that more aptly describes our experience, trust. For trust in a belief to be valid, the belief must withstand the scrutiny of close and detailed examination. The Christian faith does so via apologetics. Christian apologists, including Ravi Zacharias, Frank Turek, Hugh Ross, and William Lane Craig, are highly credentialed intellectuals who dive deeply into any and all questions concerning the Christian faith. Christian apologists are not, of course, without opposition.

Is there apologetics in the AI Church? Prophecies are a form of apologetics; they are often hard to debunk. Not so in the case of the AI Church. Take the case of AI immortality via uploading one’s mind to a computer, announced by the prophet Kurzweil. Computers are constrained to follow step-by-step procedures written in code, called algorithms. Humans have capabilities beyond algorithms. The nonalgorithmic or, equivalently, the noncomputable aspects of a human can therefore not be realized on a computer. Sorry. There is no immortality in the AI Church. The best you can do is upload the algorithmic part of yourself, who is probably a pretty boring person.

It is likewise not possible for AI software to write more and more powerful software. That would require the computer to be creative and creativity is noncomputable.2 The AI would be doing something that cannot be explained by the programmer.3 Doing so would pass Bringsjord’s Lovelace Test4 which is the test for AI creativity. There is no example of AI software writing or evolving smarter AI software. No software has yet passed the Lovelace Test.

Some have proposed that the nonalgorithmic abilities of humans might be achieved by certain quantum effects that are themselves not algorithmic.5 Computers6 do not have this capability. They can only achieve algorithmic tasks. If your ideology is constrained to narrow naturalism, the nonalgorithmic effects in quantum mechanics look to be the only dim star of hope in a big black sky.

Judging by their writings, most of the worshippers at the AI Church are unaware of the speculative nature of their quantum conjecture. For example, they believe that Kurzweil’s prophecies will be fulfilled by bigger and faster versions of today’s algorithmic computers. But nonalgorithmic computing remains largely unexamined and has a long way to go. No one today seems interested in pursuing its reduction to practice. The Singularity Is Far.

So the case for faith in the AI Church is hanging on a thin thread of speculation whose tensile strength remains unexamined. The god of the AI Church is a false god.

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• For more information, watch the RZIM video featuring Oxford Mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox: “Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence?” This article is motivated by and borrows from his presentation.

• My interview with John Lennox about his AI talk will soon air on the Mind Matters podcast.

• For another example of naturalism creating a god and a church, have a look at Ann Coulter’s book, Godless (2006).

1 Mark Harris, “Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence,” Wired, November 15, 2017.

2 Eric Holloway, The Creative Spark: An information theory justification for the intrinsic value of human beings, Mind Matters, January 21, 2019.

3 Marks, Robert J., William A. Dembski, and Winston Ewert.Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics, 2017.

4 Bringsjord, Selmer, Paul Bello, and David Ferrucci. Creativity, the Turing Test, and the (better) Lovelace test, Minds and Machines 11:3-27, 2001; Robert J. Marks II, The Turing Test Is Dead. Long Live the Lovelace Test, Evolution News and Science Today, July 3, 2014.

5 Penrose, Roger. The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999; Penrose, Roger. Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness. Vol. 204. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994; Hameroff, Stuart. “Quantum computation in brain microtubules? The Penrose-Hameroff ‘Orch OR’ model of consciousness.” Philosophical Transactions-Royal Society of London Series A Mathematical Physical and Engineering Sciences (1998): 1869-1895; Penrose, Roger, and Stuart Hameroff. “Consciousness in the universe: Neuroscience, quantum space-time geometry and Orch OR theory.” Journal of Cosmology 14 (2011): 1-17. Robert J. Marks, Quantum Randomness Gives Nature Free Will, Mind Matters, December 6, 2018.

6 This includes quantum computers that use some other properties of quantum mechanics.

Robert J. Marks is the Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University.

Also by Robert Marks: AI Hype: The Top Ten from 2018

See also: 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


Ai and the Future of Murder If I kill you but upload your mind into an android, did I murder you or just modify you? (Jonathan Bartlett)

The Idol with Feet of Silicon