VFTB 227: Zoltan Istvan – Religion and AI

Zoltan Istvan
Zoltan Istvan

IF AND when humanity builds an artificial superintelligence, will it be Bapticostal or Presbylutheran?

Seriously, the day is coming when people of faith will have to wrestle with the concept of spiritual machines. Zoltan Istvan, author of The Transhumanist Wager and candidate for president in 2016 on the Transhumanist Party ticket, discusses his recent article, “When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It?

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5 Comments on VFTB 227: Zoltan Istvan – Religion and AI

  1. This was not at all what I was expecting from my quick look at Mr. Istvan’s transhumanist web-site. Omnipotence (a rather strange word for an entropic universe) was mentioned only briefly. Other than that, I felt that Mr. Istvan was quite erudite in discussing ideas of moving into the technological future with hope and optimism. A little too much optimism, perhaps.

    A Skynet super-intelligence is, I suppose, possible but Istvan and Kurzweil impress me a intelligent and optimistic cheerleaders for an AI future. The truth is likely to be much messier. One of the technological hurdles that is usually ignored is just how a super-intelligent AI is going to operate without human minions to maintain its infrastructure. Not to mention the program crashes inevitable in this kind of technology. As was recently pointed out, it is likely that AI’s will be developed in three directions: specific function (think Deep Blue but writing novels, painting pictures, designing new and efficient cars, driving your car); human replicant (think trying to reproduce the operations of the human brain – it won’t be smarter and it will be slower); and true AI (won’t happen until we’re very good at the other two and, by then, who knows what civilization will be like). No, far more dangerous will be military specific task AI. They will almost certainly have unintended consequences and they might try to kill us but they won’t WANT to kill us) but the same can be said for all the corporations (and masses of humanity) out there destroying the environment for a fast buck.

    As for Kurzweil’s vision of uploaded “immortality”, you allow it to offend your religious sensibilities too much. The “Bible” doesn’t cover computer intelligences and most Christians consider biblical revelation to be closed so there is NO WAY to know what God’s plan is for AI’s and uploaded intelligences. Lacking any certain knowledge on this topic (and, no, AI’s are – by definition – not idols, fallen angels, or demons), the only honest choice – for a Christian – is to treat any AI as an ensouled machine and let God sort it out when they die.

    Yes, die. This is an entropic universe. Even machine intelligences will have to face the knowledge that they will die. It just might take a while longer than humans take (and, honestly, even that is doubtful – think about how long your typical desktop computer lasts).

    You know, I wanted mention feeding the poor, population control, eugenics, the Antichrist, self-fulfilling apocalypses, and other such topics that you brought up but every time that I started to do so, I realized that it was just too much for this response. So, instead, I’ll close with a fairly short suggestion:

    Rather than running from transhumanism and / or demonizing it, embrace it. Use it to create a just, democratic, and questioning world culture. Counter efforts to use it to oppress the majority of the population. Build a world culture based on love, diversity, and inclusion rather than hatred, fear, and labeling. If you can do so, then those are the behavioral foundations that we will teach our children and our AI’s who, after all, will be our children as well.

    • Dr. Kurzweil and those of like mind are more than welcome to pursue eternal life in any way they wish. I have made a point of acknowledging that the motives of Dr. Kurzweil, Zoltan Istvan, and many other leaders in the transhumanist movement are altruistic, driven by a genuine desire to elevate the human condition.

      Others are unquestionably seeking apotheosis. I’m not so keen on them.

      Evidence leads me to several conclusions. First, humans are inherently selfish, and the technology of radical life extension or immortality is not one that is likely to be shared by the rich and powerful with the hoi polloi. Rather than a golden age, it is far more likely to result in further, and permanent, stratification of the classes and/or a resurgence of the eugenics movement. Already we are seeing calls for compulsory restrictions on human breeding.

      Second, the transhumanist movement is, at its core, inhuman. What is the price for bringing AIs into the family? On what basis do we determine who or what is a “person”? Does human life have intrinsic worth, or is “personhood” a status conveyed on those entities that display an arbitrary minimum level of cognition? In other words, by creating non-human persons, do we not also create a class of non-person humans?

      Third, the transhumanist movement, in its desire to be inclusive, assumes a common standard of morality. Whose morality? Does everyone upgrade? If not, who decides, and on what basis?

      Finally, we are all eternal beings. The only question is where we will spend eternity. Dr. Kurzweil is free to believe in the technological singularity followed by the awakening of creation itself (his Six Epochs of Evolution). I believe the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series in my lifetime, but that doesn’t make it true. I simply want my family, friends, colleagues, and anyone who cares to listen to me, to place their faith in the option that is true.

      Your assessment of Mr. Istvan’s optimism is spot on. I like him and we get along well, and I expect to talk with him again before the year is out–maybe in my capacity at SkyWatchTV. Our hope is to keep a dialogue open rather than to demonize those who do not share our views. We gain nothing by repeatedly preaching to the choir.

  2. Although I don’t believe you’ll publish this comment, based on past experience where I referred to posts I’ve written and linked to which contain information relevant to the topic at hand, I’d like to inform you that I referred to this program of yours and linked to it in a post I wrote for the Image of the Beast blog in March 2015, titled, “Soon we will be gods: Singularity (or the big lie repackaged) Part 3 at http://imageofbeast.com/2015/03/ If you have a problem with that, please let me know.

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