“We believe that intelligence is not rooted in biology. While biology has evolved one type of intelligence, there is nothing inherently specific about biology that causes intelligence. Eventually, we will be able to recreate it without using biology and its limitations. From there we will be able to scale it to beyond what we can do using (our) biological limits (such as computing frequency, slowness and accuracy of data copy and communication, etc).”
The passage above is one of the opening statements found on the Way of The Future Church website – a religious organization whose goal is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.” (Wired, “Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence” 2015). Its followers, often called “Digitalists”, believe in the transcendent power of digital computation. Moreover, Digitalism is based on the idea that technology will soon be able to surpass human abilities hence preparing its followers for a “smooth transition”.
At the center of the Digitalist technology worship is the belief in intrinsic insufficiency of humans. Similar to Christianity’s ultimate redemption from Original Sin, The Way of The Future promises redemption from the inescapable sin of limited brains and aging bodies of humans. Interestingly, unlike traditional religions where beliefs are centered on the immortal soul, Digitalists believe in the immortality of the (future) binary code used to compute and simulate our minds. Another peculiar difference between modern religion and digitalism is that Digitalists believe that they themselves are not “believers”. They consider themselves practitioners of “science and facts”.
In the Introduction to Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology and the Things in Between, Jeremy Stolow explores how the domains of religion and technology are inextricably linked with one another. He also examines the division between the two – noting that religion may accept, reject or repurpose technologies while technology refers to an order of things existing independent from these frameworks of meaning. Thus the very idea that technology and religion exist as two ontologically distinct areas is revisited here.
Stolow argues that technology – in the sense of materials, instruments and techniques – presents a network of embodied knowledges and powers, subliminal and unconscious operations, without which religion itself could not exist. For example, the spread of religious ideas and teachings could not be fully enabled without the technology of writing. According to Stolow, a growing number of theorists has begun to place importance on technology’s sacral and magical dimensions. He notes that:
“Because of their imponderable complexities, their autonomous, networked agency, and their capacities to compress time, erase distance, and reproduce sameness, modern technologies have thus come to be understood as possessing transcendent or uncanny features, the encounter with which is phenomenologically comparable with the performative techniques of prayer, ritual action, or magic, or with the “religious” experiences of ecstasy and awe—as famously argued by Jacques Derrida in his account of what he describes as the return of a repressed, “primitive” animism within modern tele-technoscience.”
Modernity has taken the magical and the mysterious features of religion from our daily mundane lives and sequestered it to the esoteric and the occult. But society has an innate need to interact with the unexplained, uncanny corners of existence. Since Digitalists – along with the technologically-inclined world – have rejected the very concept of religion, they assign magical properties to the exalted foundation of their most closely-held interests: science (or at least their cartoonish understanding of this). But this is a farce – designating such power to what they perceive as “objectivism” doesn’t absolve them of subjectivity, it just isolates them from the responsibility of confronting their flawed humanity. It’s easy to dress science up in religious performativity. But until those rituals honestly confronts primitive within humanity, they will never be more than soulless pantomime.
Wired, “Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence” 2015
Jeremy Stolow, Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between, Fordham University Press, New York, 2013, Introduction, pp. 1–22.