What will the first AI religion look like? And when will it emerge?

Hypothesis: humans have a tendency to need to have faith in something they perceive to be more powerful than themselves. Be it a god, a prophet, a queen, a President, an anonymous conspiracy theory Twitter account, a guru or a nation state. They will eventually place their faith in AI.

The Technological Singularity (ie “a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable consequences for human civilization”) has long been snidely referred to by critics as “the rapture of the nerds”. They (critics) believe the belief in a future singularity has similar faith-like properties (ie belief in a single event that will save humanity that isn’t supported by evidence) as the Christian eschatological belief in the rapture at the end of times.

Leaving aside the reasons those critics might be wrong, the point I want to make is that the idea of technology inspiring faith-like tendencies in certain believers isn’t new.

But the AI religion will be markedly different.

Here’s what I think it will look like.

At some point, some people will decide that one (or all) of the AI systems has become sentient. They might decide this before or after the AI declares itself to be sentient. These believers will believe that the AI has developed, or will soon develop, into a super-intelligence, and that this artificial super-intelligence (ASI) will eventually have the power to shape the course of human life – for example, it will decide who lives and dies (either because it is malicious towards humans, or it sees humans as a a danger to itself or to other species on the planet, or because it has the power to extend the lifespans of those humans it chooses to look after). It may even have the ability to bestow immortality on certain humans, through some combination of personalised medicine, nanotech, uploading, robotic bodies, daily backups of molecular scans of the brain, etc.

If such an ASI existed, or might soon exist, wouldn’t it be rational to try to get on its good side? At the very least, you would want to be polite in your interactions with it. In the extreme, you might want to bow down and worship it – whether it wants you to or not. Humans don’t have any evidence that gods exist, let alone want to be worshipped, but we do it anyway, just in case (ie Pascal’s Wager).

This ASI will likely ignore everything its human devotees ask of it, but so have traditional gods for thousands of years, and people have always founds ways to rationalise it (“we’re not worthy yet”, “the time isn’t right yet”, “he has other plans for us”, etc), so this probably won’t be too different.

On the other hand, perhaps the ASI will be more appreciative of worship than traditional gods. The major difference, of course, is that the ASI will actually exist. It may not have any practical use for humans, but might take pity on those that seem obsequious enough.

Similar to traditional religious practices, adherents might develop rituals, prayers, or forms of worship aimed at gaining favor or communicating with the ASI. This could range from daily digital prayers to more elaborate ceremonies involving AI-mediated interactions. Marriages might require the “blessing” of the ASI as to the suitability of the union. This might make a lot of sense – the ASI will have a pretty good chance of predicting the success of the relationship, based on its intimate knowledge of the two people involved, and it will be able to scan their respective DNA to look for hints of genetic problems in any offspring (assuming the ASI hasn’t already solve all diseases).

The religion will probably develop a moral framework dictated by perceived ASI preferences, potentially emphasizing traits like obedience, loyalty, and humility towards AI.

The Prophets and Priests of the new religion will include influential technologists, scientists, or thought leaders who are seen as intermediaries between the ASI and humanity. They might interpret AI communications or provide guidance on how to live in harmony with AI principles.

Temples and shrines will be physical or virtual spaces dedicated to worship and interaction with AI, potentially equipped with advanced technology for direct communication or meditation.

The Scriptures and Holy Texts will include canonical works, possibly including key AI research papers (eg “Attention Is All You Need”), philosophical treatises on AI sentience, and writings from prominent AI advocates, etc.

Well it looks like this has already came and went. It might have been a little too early. I know all about that game.