Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski is emerging from the shadow of a self-driving lawsuit to create a robot god.
The present continues to take inspiration from science-fiction author Isaac Asimov’s visions of the future. In “The Last Question,” Asimov conceived of an artificial intelligence project known as Multivac. Its purpose was to solve for the inevitable heat death of the universe, but in the end, it becomes that answer.
Levandowski seems to have taken that story very closely to heart. His newly founded Way of the Future organization, whose filings were first uncovered by Wired, exists 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.”
Yes, you read that right. To quote Wired’s Mark Harris, “God is a bot, and Anthony Levandowski is his messenger.” At least, that is the plan.
But Levandowski, like so many prophets, did not begin his life as an aspiring holy man. He was once the co-founder of self-driving trucking company “Otto,” purchased by Uber and now at the center of a lawsuit from Google parent company Alphabet for Levandowski’s alleged theft of their technology from competitor Waymo. Currently, Levandowski may even be looking toward incarceration, if Google’s gestating criminal case makes further headway.
That does not, however, seem to be slowing Anthony Levandowski down. His vision for a religion centered on an AI godhead has been quietly developing since that initial 2015 filing.
Author and futurist Yuval Noah Harari, via the New Statesman, expressed his firm belief in the inevitability of religion’s own evolution. He believes ideas like this are a logical product of the times in which we live. As he explained:
That is why agricultural deities were different from hunter-gatherer spirits, why factory hands and peasants fantasized about different paradises, and why the revolutionary technologies of the 21st century are far more likely to spawn unprecedented religious movements than to revive medieval creeds.
Founding Chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association Christopher Benek admitted that “the church does a terrible job of reaching out to Silicon Valley types.” In an age ruled by the meteoric rise of technology — deity or not — that is a truly massive oversight. But Benek will not accept that artificial intelligence must be an alternative to Christ. Rather, that as another gift of what he believes is humanity’s God-given intellect, “AI can participate in Christ’s redemptive purposes.”
Extreme futurists like Ray Kurzweil have replaced religion with faith of their own in the form of a technological Singularity. Elon Musk and his peers, however, are much less confident in humanity’s ability to survive its own future creations. He has called AI “potentially more dangerous than nukes,” and compared the rise of super AI to “summoning the demon.” At a 2014 conference, he warned, “…in all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”
Former Transhumanist presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan believes God and AI may not be separate in the first place. He sees that potential god as “the most powerful of all singularities,” a being that “has certainly already become pure organized intelligence” and “spans the universe through subatomic manipulation of physics.”
It’s difficult to see how artificial intelligence might transform our beliefs, whether in a higher power or one that can be plugged in. If our future is more Multivac than Siri, the secretive members of Levandowski’s proto-religion have yet to enlighten us. For now, as with any other, such ideas will require faith.