Computer Generated Spirituality

 Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has, with a few other titans of the modern tech world, expressed fears regarding Artificial Intelligence: that is, that it could get away from us and decide to kill us or enslave us, as in either the Matrix or the Terminator movies.  Most computer scientists don’t believe that AI is likely to cause those kind of problems, any more than most scientists think that the movies War of the Worlds or Independence Day tell us what our first contact with non-human intelligence from other worlds will be like.

For me, I think that we should be a bit careful in both realms, but I think the risks are manageable and that pessimism is unlikely to be justified.  What interests me more, are some of the other questions regarding Artificial Intelligence that show up in science fiction.  For instance, what to me is one of the more interesting of the Star Trek: Next Generation episodes is the one entitled “The Measure of a Man” in which the android Data is forced to fight for his rights as an independent, sentient being: that is, is he merely the property of Star Fleet, or is he an independent being who, for want of a better term, has certain human rights, the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

It may be awhile before we have to fight for the rights of artificial beings, but I think that eventually it is something that will happen.  I come down on the side of granting them full rights, just as non-human intelligence from other worlds should also have the same rights.

The religious perspective is an interesting one for artificial beings.  Will churches, synagogues and mosques be open to allowing artificial beings to join their congregations as full members? What about non-human intelligent beings from other worlds?  Would artificial beings have gender?  Sexuality? What would an artificial being, if it wished to become Jewish, have to go through to convert?  Circumcision?  How would that work?  Would Reformed Judaism be more open to the idea than the Orthodox?  What if one wished to become a Baptist?  Would the Southern Baptist Convention offer the right hand of fellowship to a sentient computer?  How would one baptize a being that exists only in virtual reality?  Which denominations would be more or less open to the artificially intelligent?  What would the Pope pronounce?