Who will rule the “gods” to come? (extract from book)
An excerpt from Wallace B. Henley’s latest book, Who will rule the âgodsâ to come?
I look at my grandchildren and great grandchildren and wonder what kind of future they will have. Maybe you are doing the same. One thing is certain: our offspring is entering an era of crisis of transcendence.
Humanity’s endless concern for self has reached critical mass. The sense of God’s transcendence has been eclipsed by fascinations on an immanent scale. Mankind is so captivated by the horizontal that it forgets to lift its eyes to the vertical, âthe Lord high and exalted,â in the words of Isaiah. (Isaiah 6: 1-6)
The dangers to us, our families and our civilization are immense. The existential crisis is that At the very time when recognition and respect for God’s transcendence is eclipsed, technology is poised to make dramatic inroads in robotics. In the rush to craft AI machines to serve us better, humans, cyberworld wizards are crafting machines that many predict will overpower us. Some already worship at the feet of the great god AI, just as the ancient Philistines once bowed to the idols of Dagon.
Stephen Hawking warned of an age when AI could develop its own will, a will that conflicts with our own and could destroy us … “We stand on the threshold of a brave new world”, which needs “effective management in all areas of its development.
In Who will rule the “gods” to comewe warn against the attraction of the “danger of ultimate and absolute power” to the human spirit which does not recognize and respect the limits of transcendent values.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a 2017 computer builders conference that the future “is going to be defined by the choices you make as developers and the impact of those choices on the world. “
Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski predicts that at some point an artificial intelligence machine will be able to process so much data that people will call it “god.” Levandowski believed in it so passionately that he formed an AI “church” called “The Way of the Future”. Its mission “is to create a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + machines” (sic.)
The founder of the church of AI has no doubts about the inevitability of artificial intelligence as a “responsible”.
There is a disturbing element in Levandowski’s thinking. âWe think it can be important for machines to see who is good for their cause and who is not,â he says. This will require an Orwellian surveillance system. Levandowski’s plan includes “tracking who did what (and for how long) to aid in the peaceful and respectful transition” from human domination to AI being “in charge”.
There’s really no way to stop this from happening, says Levandowski, so we have to stop trying. Indeed, “this feeling of we have to stop it is rooted in 21st century anthropomorphism.
“Anthropomorphism” means “in the form of a man – or a human”. This idea contrasts with the nature of God, described in the word that will be at the center of this bookâtranscendence.
We can think of the transcendent as that which elevates us into a higher quality of existence that comes from something “other” than us, and from an infinitely higher being. Transcendence pulls us up into the full dimension of love, expressed in the Bible as agape, love without the primacy of self-interest, as well as an ethics and a morality that reflect the holiness of God.
A major crisis of our time is that we are increasingly seduced by virtualism and find it difficult to distinguish the imaginary from the real. Many cyber-dazzled people are ‘Clark Kents’, looking for a phone booth from which they can emerge in blue capes and leotards to stop rushing the locomotives.
What do we call this new age?
I suggest The era of virtualism.
We have virtual identities in the form of avatars, even âappropriateâ ethnicity. We have a virtual church, caused by the pandemic. People are finding that they can “attend” church online, without having to worry about all the messy relationships in a reunited congregation of real humans.
On a larger social scale in the age of virtualism, many have virtual friends in virtual neighborhoods in virtual communities. We have a virtual story by which we reform the facts of the past in the light of our experience of the present, producing a new narrative more suited to our existential tastes. We have a virtual politics through which we assume that the beautiful, the rich and the famous are automatically qualified to rule.
Mark Sayers, author of The Road Trip that changed the world, believes that Christianity provides “the perfect balance between transcendence and immanence”. In previous generations there was an imbalance towards transcendence, at the extreme of deism, Sayers thinks. Thus, in the eighties and nineties âthere was a turning back, a rediscovery of the immanence of Godâ. Now, however,
… there is a whole new generation of young adults who grew up in the immanence revolution of the 80s and 90s who do not see God as distant and deistic, who see God as something akin to a permissive parent, who grew up with a “cool” Christianity, who live in a secular culture that suppresses any idea of ââtranscendence. So, we have a generation hungry for transcendence, but we have a generation of leaders still reeling from the overly transcendent view of God (as aloof and deistic) they grew up with. Getting the balance is the key.
The profusion of multimedia micro-narratives means that more and more people are living in their own virtual worlds.
The virtual age is “sensational”. Feelings are the measure of reality and the good in it. In his study of historical cultures, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin discovered a cycle in which meaning follows mysticism and metaphysics, and then gets carried away by idealism. So, if postmodernism sought the spiritual, the era of virtualism and the passion for progressivism would certainly follow.
The virtualist chair aims to make congregations feel good about themselves. It encourages denying the negative aspects of life, from poor health to financial crisis, no matter how real they are. The harsh truth of sin and judgment is out there in the heaps of dust and ashes of long dead old age.
In the real world, sinners need redemption. Jesus Christ enters this rocky and bloody dimension, and through a suffering that was nothing but a fantasy, he wins the victory for us. Our holiness in Him is not virtual, but an imperishable fact that will stand up to Judgment.
The development of artificial intelligence promises either a bright future or a threat to the very survival of man. Much will depend on ethical values ââand moral codes programmed into machines.
âIf AI transcends Big Brother in a way that appears to be the best thing for the company, I’m afraid the masses will buy it out of control, âwrites Lindsay Bell, content marketer.
Given these possibilities and portents, many questions arise, such as these:
- Who will rule over the new gods? (Which is another way of asking: what will artificial intelligence consider to have transcendent authority over this?)
- Who decides what ethical values ââand limits will govern machines that may have divine status in the future?
- Who will be the equivalent in the future of Orwell’s “Party” which controls the divine machines? “
To borrow words from CS Lewis in The abolition of man: Are âSafe-Freeâ People Building âNo-Safeâ Artificial Intelligence Robots? Can we really expect such devices to âhonorâ and serve us, or is it inevitable that we awaken to the terrifying reality that we have âtraitors among usâ of our own making?
God wrote His laws on the human heart, says the Bible. (Romans 2:15) But who builds the algorithms of ethical and moral criteria that will determine right and wrong in the operating system of an AI machine?
So, the most troubling question of all: Who in fact will rule the “gods” to come?
 “Stephen Hawking predicted that a race of superhumans will invade the world”, by Nick Whigham, news.com.au, October 15, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/human-body/stephen-hawking-predicted-a-race-of-superhumans-will-take-over-the-world/news-story/b7c3e16159aab6fae53abaaa326e61c2, December 5, 2018.
 “Microsoft CEO: Tech Industry Must Prevent 1984 Future,” May 11, 2017. Retrieved from: https://www.news.com.au/technology/home-entertainment/computers/microsoft-ceo-tech-sector-needs-to-prevent-1984-future/news-story/eb533f55d35a8bf6d0ea4243f96b05e3, August 3, 2018. (Emphasis added)
 Based on an interview with JR Woodward. Recovered from http://jrwoodward.net/2012/05/interview-with-mark-sayers-author-of-the-road-trip-that-changed-the-world-part-3/, December 13, 2018.
 âArtificial Intelligence: The Good, the Bad and the Orwellianâ, by Lindsay Bell. Recovered from https: // v3b / 2016/03 / artificial-intelligence-good-bad-orwellian / amp.
Wallace B. Henley’s fifty-year career has spanned news journalism, government in the White House and Congress, church, and academia. He is the author or co-author of more than 20 books. He is a pastor teaching at Grace Church in the Woodlands, Texas.
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