Are We About To Write A New Bible? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
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Ever feel like you could do with a little guidance? A push in the right direction? Over the past couple thousand years or so, humans have often turned to religious texts to help get them through life's trickier moments… but is science and technology now triggering a major paradigm shift? In this video, Unveiled takes a closer look at the reasons why we might soon... need a new Bible!

Are We About to Write a New Bible?

Ever feel like you could do with a little guidance? A little push in the right direction? Over the past couple thousand years or so, humans have traditionally and so often turned to religious texts to help get them through life’s trickier moments… but is science and technology now triggering a major paradigm shift? What does the future look like… and will there be a new “good book” to call upon?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question: are we about to write a new Bible?

First of all, the traditional Bible isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. Nor are any of the other central texts from the world’s other leading religions. Today’s video isn’t so much contemplating the future of those many established worldviews that we already have on this planet… it’s more about pre-empting the emergence of a new one. A new mode of thought, with new rules, teachings, and perhaps even new deities.

Depending on who you speak to, the AI revolution is either here or we’re on the brink of its arrival. And, of course, the endgame moment in the minds of many is the fabled AI Singularity. This is the tipping point for technology, where AI becomes so advanced and widespread that it can no longer be controlled by its human creators… and instead, it begins to control us. But where on Earth could a new Bible enter this futuristic landscape?

Well, we have already seen one reasonably high-profile tech religion come and go. It was somewhat ambiguously called Way of the Future… and it enjoyed a brief time as talk of the internet in 2017, when news of it broke - first of all on “Wired”. The founder of Way of the Future was the controversial tech figure and ex-Google employee, Anthony Levandowski… who, despite literally being the one-time head of a religion, is probably more famous for charges made against him over the alleged theft of self-driving car secrets from Google.

But still, outside of the courtroom Levandowski had a religion to run, and he did so with some success in the early years. Way of the Future never built any churches or held any notable services… but its overall message was one of unity. Unity with AI. In general, the idea seemed to be that with the AI singularity approaching on the horizon, it would be a lot better for all humans if we were on the right side of it. That is, if we accepted it and positioned ourselves to work with it. Or even, as might inevitably be the case, to exist below it.

Ultimately, the enterprise was short-lived, with reports that Levandowski closed Way of the Future at the end of 2020 - donating the $175,000 it had left in the kitty to the NAACP. In all, it had been active for only around five years. But perhaps one of the more intriguing aspects of it, even if it never truly got off the ground, was a reported Way of the Future gospel, known as The Manual. The specific contents of the Manual were never revealed, although it perhaps follows that any teachings would serve to underline the same central message of AI-human co-operation. In fact, Levandowski made a point of referring not (as most others do) to the AI singularity, but to the AI transition, instead… seemingly, again, subtly reshaping the prospect into something that doesn’t need to be ominous or feared.

Clearly, the fact that it only lasted for a few years proves that this particular religion never really caught on… but should we be expecting more like it to follow? Or, at least, more examples of AI crossing over into the field of Faith? It’s a hotly debated issue, but there’s a growing feeling that, again, it may be inevitable.

In a September 2016 article for “The New Statesman”, the writer Yuval Noah Harari (known for, amongst others, his 2011 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”) argues that “technology has become the force religion once was”. In his article, he reminds us that godless religions are nothing new… but also that religions “always dance a delicate tango with the technology of the day”. For example, ancient gods were typically much more linked to problems of the time (such as providing fertile land to farm on) compared to modern gods (which exist in a time of tech-driven, industrialised fertiliser). So, with this in mind, what will the gods of the future be like?

For those like Anthony Levandowski, they could well be the machines themselves… with the main argument being that we’ve already placed so much of our Faith into technology. Into processors, motherboards, and microchips. Every day, so many of us rely on what we can’t see or understand to do the things we need. We place our Faith in technologies like email, GPS, smart watches, or driverless cars, despite most of us never really knowing that any of that stuff will work. We just expect it to, and when it doesn’t… we can feel almost lost and powerless. It’s said that God moves in mysterious ways but, nowadays, so does technology. And, as that technology increases past the AI singularity, the general idea is that our reliance upon it is only going to increase, as well - until, perhaps, the power of technology will feel like the power of a god. Maybe to the point that we’ll all bow down before it, and worship.

OK, so maybe that all sounds a little melodramatic. But, on the other hand, many are predicting AI technology to one day become all-seeing and all-knowing. Omnipresent and omniscient, much like God is said to be. Machine learning, it seems, is growing more and more useful and impactful across many different aspects of our lives, including (already) in religion. For example, news broke in August 2019 of Mindar, an android priest preaching at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. This earliest version of Mindar actually didn’t have machine learning capabilities, but the plan is that it will soon. For now, it recites pre-programmed services, and can reportedly interact with people. Instil it with machine learning, though, and might it one day be able to offer an even more human response? By interpreting religious texts, for example, rather than just delivering them? Or imparting its own wisdom to a follower in need? There is, after all, every possibility that AI will become wise… wiser than humans could ever be, thanks to the amount of information it could potentially carry, and the fact that it could live forever. Could it then become omnipotent, too? And all-powerful?

Perhaps the strongest (and most widely used) counterargument to much of this is that an AI could never have the human touch. That it could learn all it wants about emotions, and perspective, and the human spirit, but it could never replace a true human-to-human interaction. It’s what we often fall back on when convincing ourselves that no, actually, robots won’t be taking our jobs. But, with or without that human touch, it doesn’t appear as though AI is about to retreat anytime soon. And, anyway, for so long as there does exist a gap between us and it, there will always be a high sense of mystery and unknowability… from our perspective as well.

Robots may never have the human touch… but humans may never understand the AI mind, either. Not when it’s advanced beyond the singularity, at least. What would be really handy, then, is if there was some kind of conversion that we could understand… a translation, or manual to ensure that we remain at one with AI, going forwards. And, if you wanted to, you might reasonably call that translation a bible.

If the headiest predictions come true, then humanity is today building a world of the future in which we will no longer be the most intelligent physical beings on Earth. If various proposals for future space travel missions come to pass, as well, then it’s AI that will see the rest of the universe before any human person does. Eventually, the knowledge that AI could carry may well become too great for us to understand… leaving us to simply seek out its guidance. Ask for its help. And pray that it will keep us safe.

Of course, there’s every possibility that Faith in our traditional gods will still remain. The starter argument being that if humans build AI strong enough to outdo them, then that must all be part of an even higher, divine plan. But, regardless, life on the other side of the singularity could be a very different prospect, and humans will probably need help adjusting to it. And that’s why we could be about to write a new Bible.