Imagine an age when artificial intelligence takes the sum of human experience and turns it into a “global consciousness” that becomes a replacement for God.
That scenario could serve as the plot for a science-fiction novel, but novelist Dan Brown suggests that it’s a real-life possibility, thanks to anticipated advances in technology.
“Over the next decade our species will become enormously interconnected at a level we are not used to, and we will start to find our spiritual experiences through our interconnections with each other,” the AFP news agency quoted Brown as saying today at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. “Our need for the exterior God that sits up there and judges us … will diminish and eventually disappear.”
God’s place would be taken by “some form of global consciousness that we perceive and that becomes our divine,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Brown’s talk focused on his latest thriller, “Origin,” which follows a plot line that’s almost as far out there.
Past novels have woven threads of science, scholarship and woo-woo ideas into best-selling tales of deep conspiracies aligned against Brown’s fictional hero, globetrotting Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon.
In “The Da Vinci Code,” it was the study of gnostic gospels. In “Angels & Demons,” it was antimatter pilfered from CERN. In “The Lost Symbol,” it was a fringe field known as noetic science. And in “Inferno,” it was a deadly Ebola-like virus.
This time, the plot features a futurist modeled after Elon Musk, an AI-assisted battle against fundamentalist forces, and a climax that tackles (or fumbles, depending on your literary point of view) the mysteries of life’s origins and humanity’s tech-enhanced future.
“Origin” was inspired by a musical work titled “Missa Charles Darwin,” which works snippets from the evolutionary biologist’s writings into the format for a sung Latin Mass.
In Brown’s view, it’s inevitable that religious beliefs will give way to AI wisdom. “Historically, no god has survived science,” he said in Frankfurt. “Gods evolved.”
Experts on artificial intelligence tend to be pretty uncomfortable with the idea that AI will guide our lives. MIT physicist Max Tegmark, for example, addressed the potential scenarios for godlike AI in his recently published book, “Life 3.0.”
In Tegmark’s view, it would be a huge mistake to turn AI into a god, even an “enslaved god” under the full control of humans.
“Disaster may strike … because noble goals of the AI controllers may evolve into goals that are horrible for humanity as a whole over the course of a few generations,” he writes. “This makes it absolutely crucial that human AI controllers develop good governance to avoid disastrous pitfalls.”
Who’ll be in charge of our AI demigods, the descendants of Alexa, Cortana and Siri? That’s a real cliffhanger, and we can’t skip to the end of the book to figure it out.