Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality

By Robert M. Geraci | Go to book overview
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ONE
APOCALYPTIC AI

INTRODUCTION

Excepting rapture theologians of fundamentalist Christianity, popular science authors in robotics and artificial intelligence have become the most influential spokespeople for apocalyptic theology in the Western world. Apocalyptic AI resolves a fundamentally dualist worldview through faith in a transcendent new realm occupied by radically transformed human beings. These religious categories come directly from Jewish and Christian apocalyptic theology; they are the continuation of those theological traditions. Apocalyptic AI advocates promise that in the very near future technological progress will allow us to build supremely intelligent machines and to copy our own minds into machines so that we can live forever in a virtual realm of cyberspace.

The historian Joseph J. Corn implies that the masses of “regular people” are “to blame” for our faith in the possibility of technology to fulfill our salvific dreams. “Ignorance about the rudimentary workings of technology, the lack of what we now call technological literacy, has always contributed to the envisioning of material things as social panaceas” (Corn 1986, 222). Corn might be surprised, then, that the theological promise of AI comes directly from the leaders of our modern technocracy. Although Corn believes that technological ignorance leads to soteriological dreams, a careful look at technological innovators shows that they lead the charge to find salvation in robotics and AI. In fact, if we follow David Noble’s account of the rise of technology (1999), we see a steady stream of influential intellectuals who defended the soteriological promise of technology throughout modern history. It is not the scientifically ignorant who champion the religion of technology (though they may well join a movement of it) but the technological leaders who do so.

Allen Newell, one of the pioneers of AI, has given the religion of technology a beautifully mythical cast. “The aim of technology,” he says, “when properly

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