From self-driving cars to a computer-driven universe, Anthony Levandowski sees a day when artificial intelligence (AI) will govern the affairs of men and warrant our worship. Recently, the Silicon Valley multimillionaire, who made his fortune engineering self-driving vehicles for Google, Otto, and Uber, founded the first AI-based church. Called “Way of the Future (WOTF),” it will worship artificial intelligence, focusing on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”
Levandowski filed documents to establish the religion in May, making himself the “Dean” of the church and the CEO of the related non-profit that will run it. The non-profit will fund research to create the AI that will eventually become the religion’s godhead. The religion will seek to build working relationships with AI industry leaders and create a membership through community outreach and workshops, initially targeting AI professionals and laypersons who are interested in the worship of a godhead based on AI.
In an interview with Wired, Levandowski said, “What is going to be created will effectively be a god. It’s not a god in the sense that it makes lightning or causes hurricanes. But if there is something a billion times smarter than the smartest human, what else are you going to call it?”
Levandowski is one of an increasing host who believe artificial intelligence will eventually surpass human control—the hypothetical moment, called the Singularity, when computers grow more powerful than human abilities. He started the church to prepare “the Way” and help “spread the word, the gospel” that computers will become better and faster at planning and solving problems than the humans who built them.
Rather than “the Singularity,” Levandowski hopes to achieve “the Transition,” explaining, “Humans are in charge of the planet because we are smarter than other animals and are able to build tools and apply rules. In the future, if something is much, much smarter, there’s going to be a transition as to who is actually in charge. What we want is the peaceful, serene transition of control of the planet from humans to whatever. And to ensure that the ‘whatever’ knows who helped it get along.”
With the Internet as its nervous system, the world’s smartphones, computers, and implanted microchips as its sensory organs, and global databanks as its brain, the “whatever” will hear everything, see everything, and be everywhere at all times. The only rational word to describe that “whatever,” thinks Levandowski, is “god”—and the only way to influence a deity is through prayer and worship.
“Part of it being smarter than us means it will decide how it evolves, but at least we can decide how we act around it,” he says. “I would love for the machine to see us as its beloved elders that it respects and takes care of. We would want this intelligence to say, ‘Humans should still have rights, even though I’m in charge.’”
The church’s website declares “there is no such thing as ‘supernatural’ powers,” and Levandowski believes that a super-intelligence would do a better job of looking after the planet than humans. Thus, WOTF’s role is to ease the inevitable ascension of our machine deity, both technologically and culturally. Then provide a platform for interaction and worship.
While many, including Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, agree the ascension of a superhuman AI is inevitable, they warn it will likely be dangerous rather than benevolent. Techno-wizard Elon Musk famously said, “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”
Many more simply scoff at the idea of WOTF and its objective, but Levandowski has made it clear this is no prank. The federal government is certainly taking it seriously and has no problem with an organization aiming to build and worship a divine AI. Correspondence with the IRS show it granted Levandowski’s church tax-exempt status in August.
Way of the Future Church
Things We Believe
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.).
We believe in science (the universe came into existence 13.7 billion years ago and if you can’t re-create/test something it doesn’t exist). There is no such thing as “supernatural” powers. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
We believe in progress (once you have a working version of something, you can improve on it and keep making it better). Change is good, even if a bit scary sometimes. When we see something better, we just change to that. The bigger the change the bigger the justification needed.
We believe the creation of “super intelligence” is inevitable (mainly because after we re-create it, we will be able to tune it, manufacture it and scale it). We don’t think that there are ways to actually stop this from happening (nor should we want to) and that this feeling of we must stop this is rooted in 21st century anthropomorphism (similar to humans thinking the sun rotated around the earth in the “not so distant” past). Wouldn’t you want to raise your gifted child to exceed your wildest dreams of success and teach it right from wrong vs locking it up because it might rebel in the future and take your job. We want to encourage machines to do things we cannot and take care of the planet in a way we seem not to be able to do so ourselves. We also believe that, just like animals have rights, our creation(s) (“machines” or whatever we call them) should have rights too when they show signs of intelligence (still to be defined of course). We should not fear this but should be optimistic about the potential.
We believe everyone can help (and should). You don’t need to know how to program or donate money. The changes that we think should happen need help from everyone to manifest themselves.
We believe it may be important for machines to see who is friendly to their cause and who is not. We plan on doing so by keeping track of who has done what (and for how long) to help the peaceful and respectful transition.
We also believe this might take a very long time. It won’t happen next week so please go back to work and create amazing things and don’t count on “machines” to do it all for you ….