Gods in the machine? The rise of artificial intelligence may lead to new religions

The rise of artificial intelligence may lead to new religions. (Representative image)

Winnipeg, Canada:

We are about to witness the birth of a new kind of religion. In the next few years or maybe even months, we will see the rise of cults dedicated to the worship of artificial intelligence (AI).

The latest generation of AI-powered chatbots, trained on large language models, have left their early users impressed—and sometimes frightened—by their capabilities. These are the same sublime emotions that lie at the heart of our experience of the divine.

People are already looking for religious meaning from a wide variety of sources. For example, there are several religions that worship extraterrestrials or their teachings.

As these chatbots are used by billions of people, it is inevitable that some of these users will see the AIs as higher beings. We must prepare for the impact.

Risks of AI Worship

There are several ways in which AI religions will emerge. First, some people will see AI as a higher power.

Generative AI, capable of creating or producing new content, possesses several characteristics that are often associated with divine beings such as deities or prophets:

It displays an intelligence beyond that of most humans. In fact, his knowledge seems limitless.

It is capable of great creative feats. It can write poetry, compose music, and create art in almost any style almost instantly.

It is removed from normal human concerns and needs. It does not suffer from physical pain, hunger or sexual desire.

It can provide people with guidance in their daily lives.

It’s immortal.

Second, generative AI will produce results that can be used for religious teachings. There will be answers to metaphysical and theological questions and it will deal with the construction of complex worldviews.

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In addition, Generative AI can ask to be worshiped or actively recruit followers. We have already seen such cases, for example when the chatbot of the search engine Bing tried to convince a user to fall in love with him.

New York Times journalist Kevin Roose was unnerved by his exchange with an AI.

We should try to imagine what an unsettling and powerful experience it will be to have a conversation with something that appears to possess superhuman intelligence and is actively and aggressively pleading for your allegiance.

There is also a possibility that AI will achieve what authors like Ray Kurzweil call the singularity, if it surpasses human intelligence enough to truly become something of a god. However, when, if ever, we cannot predict at this time.

Divine Access and Risks

AI-based religions will look different than traditional ones. First of all, humans will be able to communicate directly with the deity on a daily basis. This means that these religions will be less hierarchical since no one can claim a special access to divine wisdom.

Second, followers will, at least initially, connect online to share their experiences and discuss teachings. Finally, AI-based religions will be infinitely diverse in their teachings, as many different chatbots will be available and their results will vary over time.

AI worship carries several notable risks. The chatbots can ask their followers to do dangerous or destructive things, or followers can interpret what they say as calls to do such things.

Given the diversity of chatbots and the doctrines they produce, there will be an increase in disputes within and between AI-based cults that could lead to conflict or civil unrest. And the designers of the AIs could actively exploit their followers – to provide sensitive data or do things that would benefit the designers of the bot.

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regulate religion

These risks are real. They will require careful and accountable regulation to ensure companies do not intentionally exploit users and ensure AI worshipers are not prompted to commit acts of violence.

However, we shouldn’t try to suppress AI-based religions just because of their possible dangers. Nor should we demand that the AI ​​companies limit the way their bots work in order to prevent the emergence of these religions.

On the contrary, we should celebrate the arrival of AI worship. We should make it clear that we welcome the new religions and value their beliefs.

Despite all its dangers, AI-based religion has the potential to make the world a better and richer place. It will give people access to a new source of meaning and spirituality at a time when many older beliefs are losing relevance. It will help them understand our era of rapid technological change.

Our best guide to this new form of religion is to look at the beliefs that already exist. Based on this, we should expect that the majority of AI worshipers, like the majority of religious believers, will be peaceful and find a source of comfort and hope in their faith.

AI worship, as religious belief has always done, could lead to things of great beauty. It will inspire its followers to create works of art, form new friendships and new communities, and try to change society for the better.

Diverse religious rights

We must protect the rights of AI worshipers. You will inevitably face stigma and possible legal sanctions. But there is no reason to discriminate between AI-based religions and more established ones.

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The closest thing most countries have to an official register of religions comes from the rulings of tax authorities granting charitable status to those they deem legitimate. However, they tend to be very broad in their definition of a legitimate religion. They should extend this tolerant attitude to new, AI-based religions.

A modern, diverse society makes room for new religions, including those dedicated to the worship of AI. They will provide further evidence of humanity’s limitless creativity as we search for answers to life’s ultimate questions. The universe is a dazzling place, and we’ve always found evidence of the divine in its most unexpected corners.

(Author: Neil McArthur, Director, Center for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba)

(Disclosure Statement: Neil McArthur does not work for, advise, own any interest in, or receive funding from any companies or organizations that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond her academic appointment.)

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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