The tech world has some issues with titanic hubris and an occasionally casual approach to the End Times. Like worshipful evangelicals accumulating canned tuna and ammo and watching the Middle East, the Peter Thiels of the world stockpile New Zealand citizenships and get their chompers capped so as to not have to worry about root canals in a post-apocalyptic future without novocaine and dental hygienists.
But merely surviving Armageddon is insufficient for Anthony Levandowski, the engineer at the center of the autonomous-vehicle patent dispute between Uber and Google’s Waymo division. Wired reported that he’s created a new religious organization — a church, more or less — called Way of the Future whose “purpose, according to previously unreported state filings, is nothing less than to ‘develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.’ If the eventual Singularity ushers in a new era of consciousness, Levandowski wants to be its high priest, its Pontifex Maximus. Sick deity, brah.
Like the date of the Second Coming, thought at various times to be Oct. 24, 1844, Jan. 1, 2000, May 21, 2011, and the other day, the Singularity has been pushed back several times. (Before progressives mock these silly believers, know that the date of that great liberal white whale, the Coming Democratic Majority, operates in a very similar fashion.) So Levandowski is probably, in his mind, just being prudent but not actually marking an X on his Google calendar.
Granted, this isn’t entirely bad. I’m sure a 21-century God would have more enlightened views on slavery and shellfish than the Old Testament God, and wouldn’t turn into a bull and rape people like Zeus. But you don’t need to take one step in any direction to know this concept is bonkers. From Andie McDowell cautioning Bill Murray in Groundhog Day that he’s not God to Jafar using his third wish to become a genie, it’s easy for people in unique circumstances to consider themselves not merely #blessed but #chosen. Levandowski probably hasn’t taken to wearing robes with astrological symbols on them, but it’s only because he’s rich and connected and other rich and connected people agree with his line of thinking that this endeavor doesn’t rank him with Frank Chu and the 12 Galaxies.
By all accounts, Levandowski is a brilliant roboticist who works “25-hour days.” I’ve certainly never met him, and it’s entirely possible he’s one of those people who emerge from marathon coding sessions looking like someone from the year 2500 who worships an atomic bomb in a subterranean lair. But this seems like the move of a math nerd who’s savvy with tax law, not someone who’s had a religious epiphany.
Still, we know that for all its purported disruptions and self-congratulatory to unshackle humanity, tech’s heavy hitters coil themselves around the Pentagon, Wall Street, and woo-woo spirituality in equal measure. (The Wired article details how closely Levandowski worked with DARPA, for instance.) And none of those things belongs in any project meant to expand human freedom. They’re there to take your money and surveil you.
It’s possible that advanced A.I. births a deity who then slaughters us all to rid the world of spam and fills the universe with paper clips, but that doesn’t keep me up at night. The gradual synthesis of algorithm-fueled bureaucracies that crush real human beings under their weight does. Powerful people don’t like democratic checks and balances. The fusion of tech and religion would give the ultra-elite that much more reason not to consider accountability in their actions, and to evangelize on behalf of the ideology of omitting human lives from any moral calculus. If the Singularity, however dystopian, is simply inevitable, than who are we peons to stop it?