Former Google engineer and self-driving car pioneer Anthony Levandowski has filed paperwork to create “Way of the Future,” a non-profit religious corporation with a supremely creepy mission.
Its purpose, according to previously unreported state filings, is nothing less than to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”
I guess that Golden Calf story never really sunk in for Levandowski. The idea of inventing a religion to worship something created by man is nothing new, but the nature of Levandowski’s idol is certainly different.
Levandowski and many others in Silicon Valley express a belief in what has come to be called The Singularity, which is the moment at which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. This they say will create rapid advancement as the A.I. machines improve themselves in a process that makes them not only exceed human intelligence but exceed it by orders of magnitude.
Not every futurist sees this as a good thing.
Elon Musk is at the forefront of many future tech endeavors ranging from space exploration to hyper-loop transit here on earth. He’s also an outspoken opponent of the kind of A.I. future people like Levandowski look forward to. Musk has called A.I. an “existential threat” to humanity.
He added that he was increasingly inclined to think there should be some national or international regulatory oversight—anathema to Silicon Valley—“to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.” He went on: “With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he’s like, yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon? Doesn’t work out.” Some A.I. engineers found Musk’s theatricality so absurdly amusing that they began echoing it. When they would return to the lab after a break, they’d say, “O.K., let’s get back to work summoning.”
Musk wasn’t laughing. “Elon’s crusade” (as one of his friends and fellow tech big shots calls it) against unfettered A.I. had begun.
Musk thinks A.I. could lead to human extinction while Levandowski is clearly—in Kent Brockman-esque fashion—welcoming our new robot overlords. But he’s not only welcoming them, he’s preparing to worship them.
I’m not one hundred percent convinced that Levandowski’s new “faith” isn’t just a large-scale way of trolling people like Musk, or maybe just a tax dodge. Then again he could be the next L. Ron Hubbard creating another corporate cult to rival Scientology. An unnamed friend of Levandowski paints a picture of a true believer.
“Anthony is lightning in a bottle, he has so much energy and so much vision,” remembers a friend and former 510 engineer. “I fricking loved brainstorming with the guy. I loved that we could create a vision of the world that didn’t exist yet and both fall in love with that vision.”
But there were downsides to his manic energy, too. “He had this very weird motivation about robots taking over the world—like actually taking over, in a military sense,” said the same engineer. “It was like [he wanted] to be able to control the world, and robots were the way to do that. He talked about starting a new country on an island. Pretty wild and creepy stuff. And the biggest thing is that he’s always got a secret plan, and you’re not going to know about it.”
In many ways this looks a lot—perhaps too much—like the backstory to a science fiction universe like those imagined in movies like The Matrix or The Terminator. It also calls to mind the moral and ethical discussions surrounding the development of nuclear weapons, the big difference being that, outside of The Planet of the Apes sequels, nobody wanted to worship the bomb.
It’s a story as old as science fiction itself. Many consider Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to be the first real work of science fiction and to some extent, all that followed dealt with similar themes—man’s reach exceeding his grasp and man’s hubris preventing him from recognizing it.
The religious aspect of the story is as old as time though. Even if you have no religion at all, you can’t help but acknowledge a distinct philosophical difference between a religion one believes to have been revealed by God to man and a religion in which man reveals a God of his own making.