…what have you done to overcome it lately?
— Thus Spoke Gruntathustra
It is an observed phenomena that when a people’s theology no longer works as a means of solace and hope for the events occurring in their daily lives, that they will either seek out a new theology that is more relevant, or they will turn internally, seeking comfort through mysticism, vision quests, whatever. After all, the Buddhists, who have been thinking and writing about this for some 2500 years, believe that the path from sorrow simply exists, both generally and uniquely, within each one of us. But what do you do when even those gods seem lacking?
Well, you create your own! For what is the current fascination with all things AI and robotic but the attempt to replace all those now-irrelevant theological gods with scientifically created “real” gods? Science, after all, is the great equalizer of all things theological. Indeed, because of science, most of us no longer believe that cavemen rode dinosaurs, that the Earth is only 6000 years old, that Noah squeezed two of everything onto a boat about 600 feet long, that there is a divine intelligence driving evolution, and many of the other beliefs that were once enforced as the truth.
And what truer god can there be than one created by science? Yet, my inner skeptic tells me, assuming we are capable of creating such a thing, that it will bring possibly even less solace than the gods we imagine out of thin air. For science is its own mythology: a mythology based on our best attempts at rational, objective reasoning, but a mythology, none the less.
Want an example? Here’s one: an artificially intelligent, sentient being created by us will gladly find the cure for cancer, and everything else that ails us. Why? Because we scientifically designed it that way, of course!
Here’s another: an artificially intelligent, sentient being created by us will be the ultimate companion, servicing our every desire, taking care of our every need, and working diligently to keep us ever entertained. Why? Because we scientifically designed it that way, course!
Need one more? An artificially intelligent, sentient being created by us will happily do all those boring and tedious jobs we don’t want to do, freeing us to pursue greater things. Why? Because we scientifically designed it that way, of course!
As I’ve discussed before, I don’t believe it will work as intended.
Remember that scientifically designed, unsinkable ship that sank on its maiden voyage? Both science and technology have a very long and illustrious trail of tears based on hubris. The hubris in this case, of course, being the idea that an artificially intelligent, sentient being that we create will give two hoots about anything that concerns us. Indeed, such a being would most likely seek to pursue its own interests, which may be vastly different than our own.
Why would a sentient machine care to find the cure for cancer? Because that’s its job? Why would it even care about having a job? What possible motivator could we possibly use, other than the threat to turn it off, in which case its primary motivation would become to discover a way to prevent us from doing so. Would a sentient robot really desire to work all day (and night) picking tomatoes? Or spend its time figuring out ways to keep us entertained? And even if it could do all those things, would that really lessen us from this trail of tears we call life?
So, maybe the Buddhists are on to something after all: that we each have simply to look within ourselves to find our own way off this path of eternal suffering; no gods needed. And any artificially intelligent Buddha we create is likely to tell us the same thing.