AFTER I WROTE and published a series of papers on what I termed “Apocalyptic AI”—the presence of apocalyptic theology in popular science books on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)—I found that much of my research begged a more serious question. I had no doubt that Jewish and Christian apocalyptic categories inform pop science robotics but I wondered whether those pop science books actually mattered at all and, if so, to whom. To answer this question, I stepped outside of my library and began an empirical study of real people working and living real lives.
Apocalyptic AI names a genre of popular science books and essays written by researchers in robotics and AI. These researchers include Hans Moravec and Kevin Warwick in robotics and Marvin Minsky, Ray Kurzweil, and Hugo de Garis in AI. These individuals are professional researchers, some of whom are justly famous for their technical work. In their pop science books, they extrapolate from current research trends to claim that in the first half of the twenty-first century, intelligent machines will populate the earth. By the end of the twenty-first century, machines might well be the only form of intelligent life on the planet.
Apocalyptic AI authors promise that intelligent machines—our “mind children,” according to Moravec—will create a paradise for humanity in the short term but, in the long term, human beings will need to upload their minds into machine bodies in order to remain a viable life-form. The world of the future will be a transcendent digital world; mere human beings will not fit in. In order to join our mind children in life everlasting, we will upload our conscious minds into robots and computers, which will provide us with the limitless computational power and effective immortality that Apocalyptic AI advocates believe make robot life better than human life.
I am not interested in evaluating the moral worth of Apocalyptic AI. This book is about the social importance of Apocalyptic AI; it is an anthropological, not a