A man creates a religion where an artificial intelligence (AI) robot is an all-knowing god; though this sounds like the next science-fiction blockbuster, Anthony Levandowski is doing just that.
Prior to this new venture, Levandowski, a former Google employee and master engineer, developed driverless car technology that was later purchased by Google1 Beyond his efforts to transform the transportation industry into a humanless transit system,2 Levandowski now pursues his next AI target: religion.
Levandowski is starting a new religion and “church” to worship AI.3 “The Way of the Future” is a nonprofit religious organization whose mission is “[t]o develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”4
Levandowski’s venture is spurring various responses. Some find the idea implausible. Some say we already worship AI and have for decades: we trust technology more than we trust ourselves because algorithms dictate our lives; we mindlessly follow GPS instructions; and we find friends on social media websites.5 Others believe that creating a religion based on worshiping AI will be successful in the near future and be able to replace the “god factor” by writing its own bible and appealing to groups marginalized by religion.6
For an AI god to become a reality, “the singularity” must be reached.7 Singularity is Silicon Valley’s “quasi-religious” concept that AI will eventually possess a superintelligence that will surpass all human capability, and be “so sophisticated [that] it will be incomprehensible to our tiny fleshy, rational brains.”8
Some say that having AI make decisions that we as humans are morally incapable of making would simplify difficult choices.9 Others question whether society should fully trust a machine. Vincent Jacques, who runs a company that uses AI to analyze blockchain, says, “It would be extremely dangerous to have an all-knowing, thinking AI-being someday.”10
However, such a being is likely far off because computer programs are built with a narrow purpose and lack the human ability to innovative and invent. Jacques specifically notes that advanced AI “doesn’t play well with a general will and general thinking capability.”11
The legal implications of The Way of the Future are plenty. One issue is whether worshiping technology qualifies as a religion and would this be an impermissible use of the tax code to avoid paying taxes on donations and income. Determining who would be responsible for injury from listening to a “god” that has unchecked and unmatched intelligence could also fall to a court.
To date, the legal field has benefited from technological advances. AI is incapable of performing tasks like “advising clients, writing legal briefs, negotiating and appearing in court,” and other activities that are essential to the profession.12 However, some are concerned that as AI becomes increasingly intelligent, a machine that is smarter than humans could leave the legal community unemployed.
Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and director of engineering at Google, is not worried about machines taking over all jobs, however.13 He believes that AI technology will not make humans obsolete, but rather will improve our capabilities by making us smarter; although they may not be in bodies yet, by the 2030s, technology might connect to the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking.14 By uploading copies of the brain to machines, digit immortality could become a reality.15 Elon Musk also proposed that humans merge with machines so that humans avoid irrelevance.16
If such technology were connected to the neocortex, humans would have constant access to information and thoughts, substantially increasing performance capabilities. Having such information during the bar exam, law school exams, in a courtroom, or at the negotiation table would alter the legal landscape. However, there are sure to be costs as well, even if they are unforeseen.
Tech leaders and experts disagree on the impact of AI on the future of humanity as a whole.17 Elon Musk has gone so far as to say that AI has the potential to make humans extraneous and the race to develop AI will be the cause of World War III.18 Steven Hawking warned that “[o]nce humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”19
One thing is certain, only time—and maybe one day machines—will tell the way of the future and the legal profession.