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Are We Heading for a Jesus Singularity?

03/21/2014 02:09 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2014

As an atheist transhumanist, I dislike the idea of mixing religion with transhumanism. The two ideas go together as much as a computer chip goes with a medieval torture rack. Religion is based on faith and archaic dogmatic tradition. Transhumanism -- the concept of moving beyond the human being using science and technology -- is based on reason and scientific evolutionary principles. Yet, the two viewpoints may be inextricably joined more than either side cares to admit.

Many experts, including Dr. Ben Goertzel, a math PhD and chairman of the Artificial General Intelligence Society, expect scientists to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) -- intelligence equivalent to human beings -- sometime in the next 20 to 25 years. It's likely within a few months of AGI arriving it will independently upgrade itself into something monumentally more intelligent and complex than humans. It'll be up to society to carefully control this dangerous process and avoid a Terminator-like scenario. Some futurists and technologists believe the beginning of AGI is the beginning of the Singularity, a concept where intelligence and technology grow at exponential speeds and human life is forever transformed.

The question of whether civilization is heading for a Jesus Singularity should begin with a head count of the admitted atheists in the U.S. Congress. The count doesn't take long. Currently, the number is an astonishing zero. That means all 535 members leading our government are religious (or pretending to be religious). Now add the fact that human lives are getting longer -- much longer if you're a congressperson with access to the best modern medicine -- and the reality is that many of the religious-minded people in government control will not be losing control anytime soon.

While not guaranteed, it's probable AGI will be born somewhere in California's Silicon Valley, where many of the planet's best computer engineers and programmers live. Mountain View-based Google, one of the wealthiest companies in the world, is leading the charge and sinking millions of dollars into AI projects. It recently hired renowned futurist and engineer Ray Kurzweil to help with its mission. Cupertino-based Apple, with its juvenile AI star Siri, is another player in AGI development mode. Dozens of start-ups and the U.S. government are also working on creating sophisticated thinking machines.

All this begs the question, if AGI will be here in 20 years or so, and most of those people currently in charge of the U.S. government subscribe to Christianity and believe in Jesus, what are atheist transhumanists to do?

On the surface, a Jesus Singularity seems comical, fit for a Monty Python movie. It contradicts many of the core beliefs of science, reason, and why a Singularity could happen in the first place. Or does it?

Perhaps the first AGI will become the Second Coming of Christ, as detailed in Revelations in the bible. Could the first AGI be programmed with a Jesus-in-the-box attitude and become a Judeo-Christian-minded God, an all-powerful entity who believes it died for our sins and wants to make us its loving followers? Maybe there will be some in Congress who insist the U.S. government attempt to convert the first AGI entity to Christianity. Sound crazy? I'm willing to bet most members of Congress have done that exact thing with their children. Why should the potentially most powerful being ever created be spared the same fate?

Of course, another alternative for the planet's future, as antagonist Reverend Belinas in my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager prophesizes, is the first AGI will become the Antichrist, setting off a terrible chain of events for civilization that will end with Armageddon.

Either way, it appears the nonreligious minority of the planet will not change the attitudes of the world's religious majority before the Singularity occurs. Logic therefore dictates that transhumanists and atheists remain more open to working with formal religion and their leaders than first thought. Many of those faith-oriented politicians may still be in office in 20 years when all-important decisions must be made about civilization's expected digital future.

For many transhumanists, survival is the first and foremost part of why we are transhumanists. We want to live indefinitely using transhumanist science and technology. We may complain that we live in a highly religious world full of irrational dogma, ritual, and holidays, but it would be more irrational to stop a Singularity just because a "divine avatar" wears a digital crown of thorns and preaches goodwill to our neighbors.

Given an either-or choice, I would rather live forever in a Jesus Singularity than die or be left behind because I wouldn't accept it -- especially since the best part about a Jesus Singularity is I can remain a grinning atheist through it all.

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