The coming age of near-complete automation is bringing with it a great amount of fear in the face of tremendous job losses and if Elon Musk is to be believed, an AI-led elimination of humanity altogether. But there are also people who view the future with optimism, looking at advanced machine brains as necessary extensions of ourselves that will supercharge our capabilities. And then there are some who think the machines will literally become our new Gods.
Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer known for his pioneering work on the self-driving car at Waymo (an Alphabet subsidiary), has filed paperwork to register an Artificial Intelligence-based nonprofit religious corporation called "Way of the Future".
What will this new church believe in? Its mission, according to paperwork found by Wired’s Backchannel, is “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”
While details of what “Way of the Future” will be like are scant, the idea comes from a person very much enamored by the potential machines hold for humanity. A multimillionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur and talented robotics researcher, Levandowski is certainly the person to proselytize technology’s potential to transform our race. A former friend of Levandowski’s expanded on the visionary engineer’s view of robots and artificial intelligence, saying he seemingly wanted robots to run the world:
“He had this very weird motivation about robots taking over the world — like actually taking over, in a military sense,” told the unidentified friend to Wired. “It was like [he wanted] to be able to control the world, and robots were the way to do that.”
Anthony Levandowski, Otto Co-founder and VP of Engineering at Uber, speaks to members of the press during the launch of the pilot model of the Uber self-driving car at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center on September 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)
In an interview with Seeker, author and religious studies scholar Candi Cann from Baylor University, placed Lewandowski’s new religion in perspective, saying it’s not that unusual in light of other American-born spiritual movements.
“It strikes me that Levandowski's idea reads like a quintessential American religion,” Cann told Seeker. “LDS [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] and Scientology are both distinctly American traditions that focus on very forward thinking religious viewpoints. LDS discusses other planets and extra-terrestrial life. Scientology has an emphasis on therapy and a psychological worldview, which is quite modern and forward thinking.”
Cann also sees deifying AI as being akin to the Hindu practice of worshipping avatars of the Godhead.
“From a comparative religion perspective, I think it feels the most like Hinduism, in which there are avatars of deities found on Earth,” explained Cann. “In this way, I think AI can reflect the best of humans back to us, which are, in turn, worshiped.”
We will have to wait and see what develops from “Way of the Future.” Levandowski is currently embroiled in a trade secrets lawsuit between Uber and Waymo.