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Silicon Valley’s Strange, Apocalyptic Cult

Key Valley figures hope to beat death the transhumanist way. Oh, by the way, YOU are doomed

Everything has a history, including Silicon Valley. According to a new media theorist, an influential Valley philosophy might underlie the current attitudes, values, and beliefs:

There is a Silicon Valley religion, and it’s one that doesn’t particularly care for people — at least not in our present form. Technologists may pretend to be led by a utilitarian, computational logic devoid of superstition, but make no mistake: There is a prophetic belief system embedded in the technologies and business plans coming out of Google, Uber, Facebook, and Amazon, among others.

Douglas Rushkoff, “The Anti-Human Religion of Silicon Valley” at Medium

In an excerpt from his new book, Team Human (2019), Rushkoff traces the history to a post-Cold War collaboration centered on Silicon Valley, aimed at first at preventing nuclear war, but branching gradually into a pursuit of immortality through digitization and AI:

Self-actualization through technology meant leaving the body behind — but this was okay since, in keeping with the gnostic tradition, the body was the source of human sin and corruption.

The cosmists talked about reassembling human beings, atom by atom, after death, moving one’s consciousness into a robot and colonizing space. The cosmists pulled it all together for the fledgling American transhumanists: They believed human beings could not only transcend the limits of our mortal shell but also manifest physically through new machines. With a compellingly optimistic have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too gusto, the cosmists told America’s LSD-taking spiritualists that technology could give them a way to beat death…

The idea that lit up the turned-on technoculture was that technology would be our evolutionary partner and successor — that humans are essentially computational, and computers could do computation better. Any ideas that could be construed to support this contention were embraced. Douglas Rushkoff, “The Anti-Human Religion of Silicon Valley” at Medium

Such a cult might help explain something: It’s amazing how often the big tech companies get caught snooping and manipulating, as discussed in regular news media: All Ears: Always-On Listening Devices Could Soon Be Everywhere (Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2019); US regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook for some of its privacy violations (Washington Post, January 18, 2019); If You Care About Privacy, Throw Your Amazon Alexa Devices Into the Sea (Gizmodo, April 24, 2019); Amazon Alexa: Illegally recording kids, privacy advocates allege (Futurism, May 9, 2019); Snapchat Employees Abused Data Access to Spy on Users (Vice, May 23, 2019); My Favorite Facebook Conspiracy Might be True (Medium, May 19, 2019).

Or else they are ridiculously careless with data (Google has stored some passwords in plaintext since 2005, Wired, May 21, 2019) —if carelessness is really what lay behind that. In an age where we are constantly tracked and our data is being sold (yes, even our medical data), that’s like accidentally leaving cash lying around.

We surely don’t need a cult-like atmosphere to explain why people are tempted by money, status, and power. The puzzling part is their seeming lack of ordinary insight into why others would find their behavior unacceptable. But if they believe the rest of us are doomed and anyway expendable, they would be oblivious to public opinion. They seem so out of touch it is almost funny. Well, it would be, if it weren’t so serious.

In this TED talk, Rushkoff recounts a memorable meeting where top tech billionaires share their apocalyptic fears and fantasies:

See also: The idol with feet of silicon: Religions based on artificial intelligence (AI) cannot transcend the limits of computers (Robert J. Marks)

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 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

and

Can we cheat death by uploading ourselves as virtual AI entities?


Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she has published two books on the topic: Faith@Science and By Design or by Chance? She has written for publications such as The Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, and Canadian Living. She is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist'€™s Case for the Existence of the Soul. She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Silicon Valley’s Strange, Apocalyptic Cult