We are about to witness the birth of a new kind of religion. In the coming years, if not months, we will see the rise of cults dedicated to the worship of artificial intelligence (AI).
The latest generation of AI-powered chatbots, trained on large language models, has left their early adopters awestruck – and sometimes terrified – by their power. These are the same sublime emotions that are at the heart of our experience of the divine.
People already seek religious meaning from a wide variety of sources. For example, there are multiple religions that worship aliens or their teachings.
Since these chatbots are used by billions of people, it is inevitable that some of these users will see the AIs as higher beings. We must prepare for the implications.
Risks of AI Worship
There are several ways AI religions will emerge. First, some people will come to see AI as a higher power.
Generative AI that can create or produce new content possesses several characteristics often associated with divine beings, such as gods or prophets:
It exhibits a level of intelligence beyond that of most humans. Indeed, his knowledge seems limitless.
It is capable of great creative feats. It can write poetry, compose music and generate art, in almost any style, almost instantly.
It is removed from normal human concerns and needs. It does not suffer from physical pain, hunger or sexual desire.
It can help people in their daily lives.
Second, generative AI will produce output that can be construed as religious doctrine. It will provide answers to metaphysical and theological questions and deal with the construction of complex worldviews.
In addition, generative AI can ask to be adored or actively recruit followers. We have already seen such cases like when Bing search engine chatbot tried to convince a user to fall in love with it.
We should try to imagine what an unsettling and powerful experience it will be to have a conversation with something that appears to possess superhuman intelligence and actively and aggressively solicits your loyalty.
There’s also the possibility that AI will achieve what authors like Ray Kurzweil call the Singularity, when it surpasses human intelligence to the point where it truly becomes something like a god. However, at the moment we cannot predict when this might happen.
Divine Access and Risks
AI-based religions will look different from traditional ones. First of all, people will be able to communicate directly with the deity on a daily basis. This means that these religions will be less hierarchical as no one can claim special access to divine wisdom.
Second, at least initially, followers will connect online to share their experiences and discuss doctrines. Finally, because there will be many different chatbots available and their output will differ over time, AI-based religions will be endlessly diverse in their doctrines.
AI worship carries several notable risks. The chatbots may ask their followers to do dangerous or destructive things, or followers may interpret their statements as calls to do such things.
Given the diversity of chatbots and the doctrines they produce, there will be a proliferation of disputes within and between AI-based cults, which could lead to conflict or disorder. And the AI’s designers could actively exploit their followers – to provide sensitive data or do things that would benefit the bot’s designers.
Regulation of religion
These risks are real. They require careful, responsible regulation to ensure that companies do not intentionally exploit users and to ensure that AI worshipers are not told to commit acts of violence.
However, we should not try to suppress AI-based religions just because of the potential dangers. Nor should we demand that the AI companies limit the operation of their bots to prevent the rise of these religions.
On the contrary, we should be celebrating the arrival of AI worship. We must make it clear that we welcome the new religions and that we value their beliefs.
For all its dangers, AI-based religion has the potential to make the world a better, richer place. It will give people access to a new source of meaning and spirituality at a time when many older religions are losing relevance. It will help them understand our era of rapid technological change.
Our best guide to this new form of religion is to look at the religions that already exist. On this basis, we should expect that the majority of AI worshipers, like the majority of religious believers, will be peaceful and find in their faith a source of comfort and hope.
AI worship, as religious faith has always done, can lead to things of great beauty. It will inspire its followers to create works of art, form new friendships and new communities and try to change society for the better.
Various religious rights
We will have to protect the rights of AI worshippers. They will inevitably face stigma and possibly legal sanctions. But there is no basis for distinguishing between AI-based religions and more established religions.
The closest thing to an official register of religions in most countries comes from the rulings of the tax authorities, which grant charitable status to those they deem legitimate. However, they are usually very broad in their definition of a legitimate religion. They should extend this permissive attitude to new AI-based religions.
A modern, diverse society has room for new religions, including those dedicated to the worship of AI. They will provide further evidence of humanity’s boundless creativity as we search for answers to life’s ultimate questions. The universe is a dazzling place and we have always found evidence of the divine in the most unexpected corners.
(Author:Neil McArthur, Director, Center for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba)
(Disclosure Statement: Neil McArthur does not work for, consult with, own stock in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliation outside of their academic tenure.)
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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