Engineering Illusions Part I: Religion and Technology

An Insider’s Take on the Tech Industry

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Technical Salvation

On June 9, 2000, the Heritage Foundation released a report titled The Technology Revolution: Road to Freedom or Road to Serfdom? Written by James Glassman, founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, the report began by celebrating the then phenomenal growth in the stock market:

Kneel Before the Angel of Technology

Exaltation of technology is hardly an honor reserved for financial analysts and policy planners. It permeates all corners of modern society. Consumers, politicians, investors and technology developers themselves subscribe to the notion of inevitable triumph of this self-guiding entity. From minor inventions and gadgets, to large-scale industrial techniques, technology will shower upon humanity its wonderful gifts, a necessary condition to reaching our destination. Not sure where we are going? No matter. Technology tells history where it needs to go, the belief goes, and constructs and illuminates our path to get there.

Celestial Cognition: The Quest for God’s Mind

Theology catalyzed scientific inquiry and technical development, and natural philosophy laced with religious doctrine animated the technical arts. This historical epistemic force greatly influenced the driving beliefs behind technological development. Artificial intelligence is but one example of a modern endeavor, whose tree of philosophy and research grows from the religious soil. Early attempts, influencing later thought, began obsessed with rectifying flawed humanity in body and mind to achieve god-like, ethereal intelligence. In the early 1600s, philosopher, scientist and Enlightenment figure Descartes perceived the mind as mankind’s “heavenly endowment and, in its essence, distinct from the body, the burden of mortality.” In a letter, Descartes proclaimed that “man is a being or substance which is not at all corporeal, whose nature is solely to think.” Such an intellectual endowment of the mind was a gift, “doubtless received from God.” Imbued within this gift was not simply a mortal capacity to think, but a shared Godly essence.¹

“Artificial Intelligence Meets Natural Stupidity” — McDermott

Veneration of such a super-intelligence is but one outcome of the religion of technology. Another one is fearing it. At the 2014 MIT AeroAstro Centennial Symposium, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk delivered a short sermon when asked about artificial intelligence. He urged, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.” He continued, “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence, we’re summoning the demon. You know 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.”

  1. D. Noble, Religion of Technology
  2. Essays on Descartes’ Meditations, Matina Horner, pg 255

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Writing about politics, philosophy, technology and current affairs. Questioning ideologies of power and discussing alternatives. Twitter: @ap_prose

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Tech Insider

Writing about politics, philosophy, technology and current affairs. Questioning ideologies of power and discussing alternatives. Twitter: @ap_prose