Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
Give me that old-time religion
It’s good enough for me  — Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Old Time Religion”

Religion is one of those few constants in human experience. When superintelligent A.I. arrive, will they find religion, too? Will they bend a knee to something higher? Will they read scripture and recite hymns? Will superintelligent A.I. feel the spirit of a higher being entering them?

With the help of sociology, history, anthropology, and even psychology, we understand why religion is so important to human beings. In some respects, religion serves as a proto-science, where things can be easily explained through observations and some rather interesting logic. From a sociological or even an anthropological point of view, religion serves many functions. These functions include social organization, the justification for resource allocation, legitimizing regime building, and so (so) much more. From a historical lens, religion colors the developments of regions like Europe, especially during the Middles Ages and the Early Modern period. Religion is an explanation for what humans do, something that motivates humans to act.

When our superintelligent A.I. come into this world, will they, too, require religion? In other words, will they need religion to help motivate them? Will they need religion in order to make sense of their position within the great swirling cosmos?

These are just a few of the questions clogging up computing space within my own mind. Although I find myself more (and more) skeptical each day when it comes to a greater being, a deity ruling over us, I cannot help but wonder about A.I. and their interactions with religion. Will they understand? Will they be tolerant? Or, will they likely find our religious practices problematic? Will they find religion to be one of our species’ greatest weaknesses?

Religious conversion has a rather contentious history among humans — and for good reason. Religious conversion can be traumatic and violent. What happens when the superintelligent A.I. refuses to give consent to being converted to (say) Christianity? What happens when a superintelligent A.I., converted to (say) some extremist sect of Islam, Judaism, or whatever, decides that humanity isn’t living up to its responsibilities and decides to declare a holy war against its creators?

Although these questions sound ridiculous to us in the here and now, they are questions we need to consider when designing artificial intelligence, especially superintelligent A.I. We must determine what is acceptable when it comes to the exposure of A.I. to religion. We must also be warned about converting A.I. to religion, especially considering the baggage that comes with forced conversions of any kind. Religion is a tricky subject, and it is one that few A.I. researchers have considered. If we are to believe that A.I. is the next step in human evolution, then we need to be careful of alienating those who might be calling the shots one day. Moreover, need to be careful of offering ambiguous and often conflicting belief systems to something that might take it too literally.

With the dangerous of conversion and religious extremism aside, A.I. researchers, philosophers, and theologians will probably decide that religion might prove to be a useful tool for superintelligent A.I., along with science, engineering, mathematics, and the arts. Religion, like any human endeavor, offers up important questions and frameworks that allow creatures such as ourselves to navigate a universe that is quite hostile to intelligent life. Religion, as problematic as it may seem, may (very well) offer superintelligent A.I. something to ponder, something to help explain its place in the universe, and, if we’re lucky, some compassion in a cold and seemingly cruel universe.