by David Cycleback PhD
Religions are made by humans for humans. However, consideration of such things as the physical world, reality and meaning should not be limited to the human view. It should extend into the areas of non-human animal minds, artificial minds, group minds and speculative minds. This exploration aids humans in reflecting on and learning much about their own minds.
A Catholic friend said “God is intelligence,” and she didn’t mean merely human intelligence. Studying other minds reflects on the nature and different types of intelligence. The study of human and other minds shows that there are legitimate other ways of thinking, and that other minds can be more capable than humans in ways.
Scientists and philosophers have long envisioned creating artificial minds and expanding human minds. Artificial intelligence and transhumanism are areas that are filled with complex and unanswerable questions about the nature of intelligence, morality, knowledge and reality.
As artificial intelligence advances, humans will cede some and perhaps eventually all power. With high-speed computers crunching numbers and robots doing tasks, we already defer in areas. If artificial intelligence ever becomes far more capable than humans, many of the answers and ideas it finds will be beyond human understanding, at least that of current humans. It will take a different brain to understand many things.
Developing artificial intelligence could be the christening of a boat that eventually leaves humans behind. Being the self-centered creatures that they are, this idea does not sit well with many humans. If the choice is between finding truth and self-preservation, most humans choose self-preservation. Even if artificial intelligence becomes far more intelligent and develops higher than human consciousness, humans still want to be the master. Humans would rather be the captain of a less advanced system than a cog in a more advanced system.
Would artificial general intelligence have the same worldview as humans?
Left to its own devices, the answer is No.
Artificial general intelligence (AGI) is highly advanced artificial intelligence that thinks like a human or at a similar or more advanced level. It has yet to be achieved, and many computer scientists and philosophers believe it must have sentience and consciousness to become that advanced.
Many humans like to think that their ingrained but unprovable views, including about morality and what is spiritually meaningful and beautiful, are the universally correct ones. However, they are arbitrary to the species and often culture. A sentient being with different senses, cognitive methods, functions and life-needs would view and judge things profoundly differently.
Human world view, religion and even scientific models are formed by human sensory abilities and biases, evolutionary psychology and distinct cognitive methods. Human’s greatest art, literature, philosophy and sacred texts are imbued with human sensory biases and abilities, its base biological tastes and urges.
“Life is like a beautiful melody,”– Hans Christian Andersen
“The heart is cooking a pot of food for you. Be patient until it is cooked.” — Rumi
A different sentient mind would have a profoundly different view of things. A computer would be perceiving and processing the world with different sensory ranges, which in itself would give a different sensory and aesthetic view of the world. It would not have the same evolutionary biological and psychological needs. It would not need food or drink, lust for people humans find beautiful or lust for anyone, fear the night or what appears as dark to human, find feces or rotting human corpses disgusting, fear bears or sharks or movie monsters. It may not need sleep. It might not find flowers or rainbows beautiful, or even find beauty a quality of any value. It might not feel physical pain or have a concept of pain.
This would not only give it a different psychological and practical view of the world, but a different intuition and different priorities about what is right and wrong, important and unimportant. It may find nonsensical the earlier quotes by Hans Christian Anderson and Rumi.
Artificial general intelligence having different worldviews and priorities are what many humans fear, and what many AI scientists and philosophers hope to prevent.
Transhumanism and posthumanism
Including AI, there are many current and futuristic theoretical methods used to try to change humans, both physically and mentally. These sometimes fall under the movements called transhumanism and posthumanism that focus on various methods to expand and sometimes even expand beyond humankind. Some in these movements see it as the next evolutionary step. These have the potential to dramatically change human function, needs, perceptions and humans themselves.
Though some of the methods are far-fetched, much current medicine and technology are currently being used to improve people. When some think of transhumanism they think of a cyborg or human with implants. However, a group of entities can be considered a mind. Humans today working with computers can be compared to transhumanism. A human think tank or corporation involves group intelligence. Call it a mind, if you wish.
Medicine has long been used to treat conditions, both physical and mental. Traditionally, Western medicine has been used to treat the ill, to fix disabilities and negative conditions. It has not been used to improve the normal or normally-abled. Transhumanism and posthumanism wish to use medicine to improve the normal, healthy human.
Medical implants and add-ons are used today. These include artificial limbs, hearts and lungs, and cochlear and cornea implants. They also include eyeglasses, binoculars, infrared goggles and hearing aids.
However, transhumanists and posthumanists envision implants and add-ons to better the species. They envision more limbs that function better, cochlear and retinal implants that give better than normal sensory abilities. To a degree, this has already happened with binoculars and infrared viewers.
Better, or at least different, body function will change mental function. Just as the mind develops based on tradition and physical function, new functions and abilities will alter the mind. New limbs and sensory abilities, changes to physical and mental speed, dexterity, touch, faster and broader travel, will change human minds.
Brain-computer interfaces connect the brain to a computer. This is done for many reasons, including the use of artificial limbs, augmenting or fixing sensory deficiencies, and mind control of devices. It has helped the blind to see. This has the potential to greatly expand human physical and mental capabilities. (National Science Foundation 2015) (Hoffman 2017)
Stanford University neuroscientist David Eagleman works on expanding human senses. He says humans perceive less than a ten-trillionth of all light waves: “Our experience of reality is constrained by our biology.” He has technology that expands the human senses. This work has potentially profound effects on the brain and thinking. (Eagleman 2018)
Being able to perceive one’s environment using different and wider range of senses would profoundly change human perception, function, judgment and worldview. Broadening the senses would increase human knowledge and understanding.
Future virtual reality experiences will not only give better visuals and sound but touch, direct cognitive and perhaps emotional experiences. There is the potential for people to be able to experience others’ experiences, relive memories and others’ memories, communicate in different ways, have more ‘first hand’ ways of learning, and experience different situations. Humans can potentially virtually visit places impossible for humans to visit, such as far-away planets that are reached by robots. It will give lifelike experiences for the disabled. (Kauffold 2016) (MIT 2016)
Virtual reality will help expand communication, education, knowledge, empathy and understanding, and will expand the mind. It will help in cognitive and other therapy, help people overcome phobias. It will help in meditation and mystical experiences.
Virtual reality brings up the question of what is reality. The human brain is hermetically encased in the head and processes the information that is given it from the outside world. As it normally receives limited sensory information and processes it in limited and often delusory ways, the human’s normal experience is virtual reality.
Through the use of having different experiences and receiving different sensory information, virtual reality will be considered just as real, or no less unreal, than human’s normal experiences.
The problem lies in that it is impossible to say what is reality, and humans can never answer what is or know they are experiencing reality.
Better communication would be revolutionary. Virtual reality, automatic language translation, direct mind-to-mind communication, the use of artificial intelligence to expand and speed up and make more precise language, would be profound. Philosophers, theologians and computer scientists have long discussed how human language is limited and limiting. Improvement of language and communication would be mind-expanding.
Transhumanists and posthumanists believe that changing society is essential to expanding minds. This includes new education systems, social interplay and changing of work dynamics. If AI is introduced as a partner with humans, changes to machine-human social dynamics will be essential. Medicine and technology can alter our biological, social and organizational requirements.
As humans are social animals, and the brain develops via social interactions, changes to individual and group social dynamics will change the mind. Developing social intelligence is an important part of expanding the mind.
The effects of artificial intelligence and transhumanism on religion
So long as there are humans, there will be religions. Artificial general intelligence and transhumanism would challenge and change religions.
Artificial general intelligence, superintelligent cyborgs and transhumanism will upset the order and beliefs of religions that have strict dogma and ancient scripture that say humans are the preeminent beings on earth and the only one with sentience and souls. Artificial intelligence will find new information, perspectives and insights that will contradict or conflict with religious sacred texts and dogma, just as Darwin’s and Copernicus’ findings contradicted centuries-old Christian scripture and beliefs.
There will remain the hardcore believers no matter what the new facts and insights. However, the new facts and perspectives will cause a shift in these religions and cause many people to leave these religions. In the modern age of scientific discovery and reason, many have left the Abrahamic religions or, as with many Jews, become secular.
Religions and believers have been changed by new scientific knowledge. Many Abrahamic believers follow science and believe the world is round, while many denominations have changed their views and practices surrounding women, race and the environment. Some Christian and Jewish denominations have ordained women as ministers and rabbis, something that was unthought of just decades before.
Artificial intelligence and transhumanism are compatible with some ancient religions. Hinduism and Buddhism are about methods to expand the mind and reach mental enlightenment. The ultimate goal of these religions is to gain transcendental intelligence. If artificial intelligence and transhumanism aid in expanding the mind, this will go hand in hand with these religions.
Similarly, mysticism across religions uses various methods to expand the mind and learn more about transcendent reality. These methods include ceremonies, meditation, prayer, fasting and drugs. Artificial intelligence and transhumanism would be used as methods to expand the mind.
Whether you call them religions or belief systems, world pantheism and secular humanism are atheistic belief systems that believe in science and human reason. As a method of scientific and fact discovery, artificial intelligence and transhumanism would influence these belief systems.
New religions will be formed based on or influenced by artificial intelligence and transhumanism. Interspiritual religions incorporate aspects of various religions, along with secular philosophy and science. Some new religions will envision creating an artificial deity. However, really, at their best they will use artificial intelligence and transhumanism as means for spiritual and intellectual exploration.
Would superintelligent AI and transhumanism find the ultimate truths and meaning of the universe?
No. No matter how intelligent they get, artificial intelligence and transhumans will still have many of the cognitive issues of the current human mind. It will still be subjective, not know the reliability of its own mind, and have limited senses. Meaning and absolute/universal truths may just be human imaginary concepts. AI may be searching for things that don’t exist.
Many will respond to this by saying that, if it is impossible for AI to find ultimate truths, we should use it for practical purposes for humans on earth. This is a standard existential response to the unknowable.
Genethique (2018), “From “repair” To “augmentation” Of Human Beings – Where Does Transhumanism Begin?”, genethique.org/en/repair-augmentation-human-beings-where-does-transhumanism-begin-68991.html#.XwZIBIjYrq9
Eagleman D (2018), “David Eagleman Neuroscientists” ted.com/speakers/david_eagleman
Hoffman S (2017), “New Brain-Computer interface technology”, youtube.com/watch?v=CgFzmE2fGXA
Kauffold P (2016), “The Future of Virtual Reality”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-HRgfJbPvk
MIT (2016), “MIT Explains: How Does Virtual Reality Work?”, youtube.com/watch?v=-Kovxf6g0mo
National Science Foundation (2015), “Brain-Computer Interface – Mysteries of the Brain”, youtube.com/watch?v=7t84lGE5TXA
Tabachnick D (2013), “The Great Reversal: How We Let Technology Take Control of the Planet” University of Toronto Press