Sometimes atheist Transhumanists ask me, “What do imaginary sky masters have to do with Transhumanism?” Of course there’s an appeal to ridicule in the question, so it’s not exactly a shining model of rational engagement. But underlying the ridicule is a real question worth addressing. Here’s my answer:
Writing for the Daily Dot, Dylan Love recently put together a good piece on religion and superintelligence. The title has changed since the original posting. The new one is, in my estimation, inaccurate, but it probably improved clicks. Here’s the original title: “Will we be able to convert robots to Christianity?” He interviewed me for the article, and my complete answers to his questions are below.
Technological change is accelerating and transforming our world. Assuming trends persist, we will soon experience an evolutionary shift in the mechanisms of reputation, a fundamental on which relationships are based. Cascading effects of the shift will revolutionize the way we relate with each other and our machines, incentivizing unprecedented degrees of global cooperation.
In 2015, you probably have more computing power than that of the Apollo Guidance computer in your smartphone, and yet Moore’s Law continues unabated at its fiftieth anniversary. Machines are becoming faster and smaller and smarter.
In his Orthogonality Thesis, Nick Bostrom proposes that “intelligence and final goals are orthogonal: more or less any level of intelligence could in principle be combined with more or less any final goal.”
However, there’s a problem hinted at by the combination of “orthogonality” and “more or less”. Nick acknowledges that intelligent purpose actually does have some constraints. And arguably those constraints are actually quite strong, which would mean the Orthogonality Thesis is rather weak.
But the weakness may not be fatal. We can formulate a Semi-Orthogonality Thesis that actually accounts better for Nick’s own observations and reasoning without overstating their ramifications, which remain momentous.
So much anti-religious dogmatism, so much misrecognized religiosity, so little time. It's a wonder to me that some clearly sophisticated persons can express such unsophisticated opinions about religion. Maybe it's just because we all have vested interests? On the one hand, those who have distanced themselves from tradition seek to justify their choice, as those who have continued to embrace tradition likewise would justify themselves. What's to be made of the strange creatures, arguably not so uncommon now or ever, that reject any notion of the choice being all or nothing or even mutually exclusive?
The value of religion depends, of course, on what you mean by "religion". If religion is merelyeuphemization of escapism or nihilism, as it so often manifests itself, then it probably has a net negative value—"probably" only because I can imagine some poor unfortunate souls that are constituted in ways that are painfully incompatible with the world as presently or possibly configured. Too many of us use religion or are used by religion to stop caring about the world and each other, except to the extent it and we happen to be "good" already.
Technology, and particularly computing, is essential to family history. Without it, we could still tell family stories to our children, but we certainly couldn’t substantiate those stories from billions of historical records into millions of family trees, as web applications like FamilySearch andAncestry.com do today.
A well known and atheist-minded Transhumanist, Zoltan Istvan blames religion for an anti-cryonics law in Canada. Basically, Transhumanism is the ethical use of technology to extend human abilities, and cryonics is low-temperature preservation of a legally-dead body for resuscitation when new technology might cure the cause of death. Zoltan’s concern is that the religious views of Canadian lawmakers may have informed the law, and that this may influence other lawmakers around the world to inhibit access to cryonics likewise.
Think of an egoist atheist. What comes to mind? Here’s what doesn’t come to mind: trust in an altruistic god-like extraterrestrial. That, however, is only because you don’t know this egoist atheist: Forbidden Truth (“FT”).
In his book “Physics of the Future”, Michio Kaku outlines six roadblocks to the Singularity. The roadblocks are at least as speculative as the technological singularity, and we can reasonably speculate our way around them. Below are Michio’s proposed roadblocks, followed by my thoughts.
I have three sons that I love dearly, and I care about their education in all areas, including sexuality. I want them to understand that sex is beautiful and fun, when accompanied with love, respect and responsibility. I also want them to understand that sex can be abused, potentially harming our relations, as well as our own psychological well being.
You’re right, and you want everyone else to know it. Maybe everyone should be a Transhumanist like you, but there’s a problem: they don’t see things the way you do. So what do you do? You might try telling them that they’re stupid, evil or ugly. When that doesn’t work, try integrating.
We have faith, even the most atheist among us. Our faith is not necessarily explicit or associated with “God”, and hopefully it’s not irrational or dogmatic. Yet we must trust, and we do trust, to the extent that we act, speak or even think. In the least, we trust in the possibility of meaning, even if it’s no more than something like a hope for or will toward a primitive connectivity or a basic cooperation within experience.
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