When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It?

Posted: February 5, 2015 at 4:51 am

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Like it or not, we are nearing the age of humans creating autonomous, self-aware super intelligences. Those intelligences will be part of our culture, and we will inevitably try to control AI and teach it our ways, for better or worse.

AI with intelligence equal to or beyond human beings is often referred to as "strong AI" or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Experts disagree as to when such an intelligence will arrive into the world, but many are betting it will happen sometime in the next two decades. The idea of a thinking machine being able to rival our own intellectin fact, one that could quickly become far smarter than usis both a reason for serious concern and a reason to cheer about what scientific advances it might teach us. Those worries and benefits have not escaped religious.

Some faith-bound Americans want to make sure any superintelligence we create knows about God. And if you think the idea of preaching God to autonomous machines sounds crazy, you may be overlooking key statistics of U.S. demographics: roughly 75 percent of adult Americans identify themselves as some denomination of Christianity. In the U.S. Congress, 92 percent of our highest politicians belong to a Christian faith.

As artificial intelligence advances, religious questions and concerns globally are bound to come up, and they're starting too: Some theologians and futurists are already considering whether AI can also know God.

"I don't see Christ's redemption limited to human beings," Reverend Dr. Christopher J. Benek told me in a recent interview. Benek is an Associate Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Florida and holds masters degrees in divinity and theology from Princeton University.

"It's redemption to all of creation, even AI," he said. "If AI is autonomous, then we have should encourage it to participate in Christ's redemptive purposes in the world."

One of the key mandates of Christianity is to spread the Gospel and get nonbelievers to accept that Jesus Christ died for the world's sins. Whether AI has any sins, or whether it can and should be saved at all may end up being a bizarre but important question believers face in the 21st century. Even Pope Francis recently sounded off on the possibility of aliens being converted when he affirmed that the Holy Spirit blows where it will.

The metaphysical questions surrounding faith and AI are like tumbling down Alice's rabbit hole. Does AI have a soul? Can it be saved? There is one school of thought that figures, if humans can be forgiven for our sins, why not superintelligences with human qualities? "The real question is whether humans are able to be savedif so, then there is no reason why thinking and feeling AIs shouldn't be able to be saved. Once human-like AI exist, they will be persons just like us," futurist Giulio Prisco, founder of the transhumanist Turing Church, told me in an email.

But there is an opposing school of thought that insists that AI is a machine and therefore doesn't have a soul. In Think Christian, scientist and Christian scribe Dr. Jason E. Summers writes, "Christians often reject Strong AI on the theological ground of the special anthropological status of human beings as the bearers of Imago Dei." Imago Dei is Latin for the Christian concept that humans were created in the image of God.

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When Superintelligent AI Arrives, Will Religions Try to Convert It?

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February 5th, 2015 at 4:51 am