Mocked another apocalyptic fantasy scenario, a technocratic variation

Mocked as the ”rapture of the nerds”, many
critics take the Technological Singularity as yet another apocalyptic fantasy
scenario, a technocratic variation on the usual theme of doom-and-gloom fuelled
by mysticism and science fiction. Many philosophers view the idea of progress
as a positive curve, however the Technological Singularity, although loosely
defined, mainly refers to an era after a self-improving Artificial intelligence
goes through rapid cycles of improvement, eventually surpassing human intelligence,
and developing sentience. Well respected individuals, known for their learned
view on Artificial Intelligence, namely Stephen Hawking, Raymond Kurzweil and Elon Musk have all
predicted that by the Year 2030, inorganic machines will have developed
consciousness through the application of human intelligence. However, would
this disprove, and destroy all major religions? While there are many arguments,
I will be focusing on the contradiction to religious texts and holy books (i.e.
This hypothetical reality goes against key beliefs in all major religions). I
will be defining major religions as the “7 Major religions”. I will be
splitting these into Western Abrahamic Religions (Christianity, Islam and
Judaism), and Eastern Religions (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Ancient
Animism/Jainism).

Theological scholars have
always been skeptical of whether an inorganic being would be capable of storing
a human mind; in the eyes of most religions, humans have an immutable soul.
This means that humans are unique, created by God and that body and soul are
intertwined. This idea is prevalent primarily in the major Abrahamic religions.
A key Judeo-Christian belief is of Imago Dei (Genesis 1:26). (Most interpret
this as the source of mans ability to imagine and reason). If this were to be
duplicated in a hypothetical Singularity, many Theologians would have much to
doubt. Imago Dei is one of the main reasons why Theological scholars deny, and
in general are very skeptical about the possibility of the Technological Singularity
occurring.

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The tension between
technology and the human soul in Abrahamism dates back to the story of The
Tower of Babel, God responds to humanity’s attempt to build a tower tall enough
to reach heaven by supposedly creating multiple languages to confuse progress. This
origin story from Genesis 11 is a biblical lesson about what happens when
humanity tries to reach the level of God. According to this story, which
doubles as a parable, God would not even allow the Singularity to occur. In a
hypothetical case, many would be scratching their heads and wondering why this
event occurred! In the Qur’an there a story about the people being scattered
over a plain called Babil, and being given different languages by God. This is
clearly a variation of the Tower of Babel story. However, there is no mention
of technology in this story, however also in the Quran, there is also a story
about a Pharaoh (Surah 28:38) who asks his high priest to build him a tower so
that he can confront the God of Moses. The Pharaoh, shortly after starting work
falls into a state of perdition.

Another topic of contention
is the idea of “uploading our minds into a machine” to achieve immortality.
This heavily contradicts all Abrahamic Theology regarding the idea of sanctity
of life. Put simply, belief in the sanctity of life means that life is sacred,
special and valuable because it belongs to God. God gives life to humans, and
therefore He, and only He has the right to take it away. Denying God this
privilege by murder is against every religion. However, denying God the ability
to deteriorate where the mind is housed is not seen as possible. Judaism is the
origin of the sanctity of life precept. Christianity has always embraced the
idea, and Islam also teaches profound reverence of life. On a whole, Western
religions believe that it is one of the most important duties to let people die
of old age, naturally. The difference with Eastern religions, although it fully
supports the idea of preserving life is that sacrifice for human life, and keeping
life from natural deaths clutches are supported.

While the Singularity seems
to oppose key doctrines in the Abrahamic tradition, there is a small group of
believers who are more open to the Singularity than the rest. Over the last ten
years, some Christians and Mormon have started adopting their faith is
compatible with the principles that the Transhumanist Declaration proposes. The
idea of the singularity is compatible with Mormonism because Mormons believe
that they are “progressively being transferred into immortal beings”, according
to one Lincoln Cannon. However, Mormons are a minority group and many of their
views are not compatible with the majority of Christianity.

As we can see, Western
religions are very much adverse to the idea of the Technological Singularity
ever taking place. In a hypothetical Singularity, Western religions would be
forced to reconsider their opinions. The likely situation would be that the
Bible, most likely the Book of Revelations, would be reinterpreted; however
this would lessen the credibility of Christianity. In Islam, what would be
interpreted is likely verses like Surah 2:96. This verse comes after 50 verses
chastising Jews, Christians and Pagans, and describes Jews ambitions to “wish
to live a thousand years.” This could be interpreted as a prophecy of what is
to come. Judaism would probably argue that the consciousness exhibited by these
AIs was not true consciousness, but a result of human programming. They would
argue that consciousness in AI was not real, although replicated extremely
accurately.

Moving on to Eastern
Religion, it appears that they seem to be more open to a Singularity, and if
this hypothetically were going to happen, these religions probably wouldn’t
have to be reinterpreted. Many prominent Buddhists and Hindus including the Dalai
Lama have expressed support for Singularity-dependent projects. These include
the 2045 Initiative, which are a group of Transhumanists founded in 2011 by
Dmitry Itskov who are trying to build an artificial body that could store
consciousness after death.

The reason why Eastern
Religion is open to the idea of a Technological singularity with introduction
of sentient AI is because Eastern Religions reject the idea of “authentic self”
A core belief of Buddhism, for example, is the idea of Anatta, the perception
of soullessness. This is the belief that there is no permanent and abiding soul,
and that there is only change, and your own conscious process of self-creation.
With no beliefs of a permanent soul given by a deity, Buddhism would be
compatible with the Singularity. According to Transhumanist Professor James
Hughes, Buddhism and Neuroscience are both compatible in the sense that they
both view identity as “a process in which many elements co-arise to create the
individual experience on a moment-by-moment basis.” This means that the whole
idea of consciousness is impermanent and fragile, and is always changing, hence
“moment-by-moment basis.” Additionally, Buddhist Teachers such as Gelek Rinpoche
and the Dalai Lama suggest that an advanced enough Artificial Intelligence
could be a reincarnated being, in line with the teachings of Buddhism.

While a tenet of all
Eastern Religion, reincarnation is most often associated with Hinduism. Like
Buddhism, Hinduism does not believe in the simple “authentic” soul that is
prominent in Western Religion. Instead they believe in a soul-like element
called Atman, which is part of the eternal Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. This
kind of “soul” is more permanent than in Buddhism, unchanged through life.
However after death, Hindus believe that the soul is taken to its next
“destination” through an astral plane. An analogy of this is given in the
Bhagavad Gita (Verse 2.22) “Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts
on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones.” Atmans
discard dead bodies and move to new ones. If a human body can house a
reincarnated being, as are the teachings of many prominent Eastern Religions
including Hinduism and Buddhism, it seems only logical that an AI with the
capacity, intricacy and functionality of, or surpassing a human body would be
able to do this as well. This means that Hinduism does not directly contradict
the idea of sentient machines.

Beneath the veneer of
Jainism, Animistic roots run deep. Jainism regards the soul as one of the six dravyas
(eternal and fundamental substances that form the universe). In contrast to
Buddhist texts, The Jain Samsayara actively condemns harm of natural objects.
Like the Ancient religion Animism, Jainism believes that all objects in the
universe, ranging from rocks to water to people have souls, or “life lights”,
with the most developed things having the most of these. Jains and Animists
believe that all nature is sentient, and we should do our best to not harm it.
If a lifeless machine were already sentient, then a proven sentient machine
would cause absolutely no friction to the beliefs of Jainism. Jainism would not
be harmed, although perhaps influenced by the Technological Singularity.

 

Sikhism,
like nearly all prevalent Eastern religions believe in the reincarnation of the
soul of which the body is like clothes that can be discarded for a new one. In
Sikhism, this belief is called Atma. However, there is a distinct difference in
the belief to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. While Sikhs still believe in animal/human
reincarnation, they believe in a very specific number of forms of life.
Chaurasi Lakh means 8.4 million, and this is the precise number of lifetimes,
shown in many Sikh texts that a soul is believed to go through in a complete
cycle. The body will take a different form in each of these lifetimes. If AI
were proven sentient beings, as in a hypothetical Singularity future, this
would add one to this figure. Unless AI would somehow be grouped with another
species, sentient AI would add another sentient animal/being to the list. This
would change the number of organisms, which would in turn contradict a small,
but basic fundamental of Sikhism.

 

As shown
here, Eastern religions are not so opposed to the Singularity. This is mainly
due to no concrete laws regarding the “authentic” soul and ideas of
reincarnation opening the door to souls taking residence inside an inorganic
being. Generally, Eastern Religion is more open-minded about technology and
human development. The exception to this acceptance of the singularity is
Sikhism, which defines a set number of life forms that cannot change. However,
the religion is slightly vague on this topic, and it could be reinterpreted to
roughly 8.4 million species rather than the exact figure.

 

While
many Transhumanist leaders believe that the Technological Singularity is
undeniable, the scientific basis for it is theoretical. Moore’s law is a fairly
accurate portrayal of how computers have progressed over the years. However,
Moore’s law doesn’t necessitate the results that Transhumanist Leaders say it
does. Generally, the evidence produced by these Transhumanists, although often
theoretical and hotly debated in every community, strongly suggests that the
Technological Singularity is undeniable.

 

In
Conclusion, the Technological Singularity with Sentient AI would disprove ideas
of an authentic soul. This is a major tenet of all Western Religion and would
disprove all of their religious texts due to ideas regarding the direct
contradiction of the immutable soul idea. Christianity, Judaism and Islam have
built religions around the soul and ideas of heaven and hell. If conclusive
proof were reached that certain AI were sentient then a major cornerstone of
these religions would be gone. Religious leaders would likely try and persuade
the masses that it was a false Singularity, but with all of the proof against
them, this would likely fail, and these religions would be highly diminished. While
this claim may sound absurd, the dramatic rise in atheism is a well-known fact
already. However, Eastern Religion would be more fortunate, with many leaders
already speculating a singularity, it would likely thrive and gain more
traction with the fall of Western Religion. In terms of minor religions not
previously discussed, the fate of these would be dependant on their reliance on
an authentic immutable soul, as is the case with the 7 major religions.

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