Cyborg Theocrats

The group glided into the chamber in a single line of procession. When the last member had entered, the line scattered in lock-step and took up their positions on the dais in hexagonal formation around the only visible object in the room: a solid smooth orb of some impressionless grey material onto which was carved runes of varying sizes and colours. A stygian gloom coated the vast chamber, lit only by an unnaturally icey blue glow emitted by the orb. An intense humming rose through the feet and around the ears of the procession. Beyond the orb and acolytes gathered around on the dais, there was only an echo of silence.

Attached to the orb were translucent pipes that led from the dais and snaked their way out of the chamber, burrowing deep into the unknown caverns of the Earth which men had long forgotten or feared to remember. Not since the Elder Days had any man delved or divined where the pipes led or what they carried, except that sometimes, should one pay enough attention, rivulets of what appeared like water and flashing sparks could be seen. It was surmised that what lay under the ground was a firmament not unlike the skies above, which was tapped to harness the power of the orb.

The gathering, initially silent, began to heave and hum with the orb, pressing ungloved hands to strange panels which mimicked their handprints. The hum of the orb grew in pitch and reached an incessant buzz as the ground throbbed with its song. In mere seconds, the sound grew beyond human capacity and the ground pulsated beneath the feed of the acolytes.

One of the acolytes stepped forward, clearly the leader in the group. He looked on the orb with reverence and spoke in a clear and methodical voice, though his language seemed purposely clipped for as much brevity as necessary.

‘O Omni, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Keeper of the Aleph, Great Generator…’

The man hummed his reverie and the orb responded with delight, its runes vibrating with a variety of colours beyond the human capacity to follow before stabilising at a bright green hue.

The priest proceeded,

‘Query: does correlation equal causation?’

The Omni Fraternity does not exist in some mythical Antediluvian Atlantis. These are portents of the future in which our scientific understanding of the technologies produced today and tomorrow are progressively lost. In lieu of science, man gradually develops mythological beliefs and ritual practices that systemize into a technological faith presided over by a hierarchical technarchy. In this future, artificial intelligence’s origins are eventually forgotten and the techniques to operate such powerful computers are systemised into rituals, and their crucial role in maintaining that civilisation elevates AI to Godhood.

Thus far, the discourse has only considered the material effects of AI. Such powerful technology has theological ramifications for humanity, too, which modern man has largely lost the moral language to discuss.

We are on the cusp of a transformation of the digital substrate that is playing an increasingly critical role in maintaining complex, industrial civilisation. Only a vastly more powerful computer than what we have today can hope to keep this system running in the long run–a truly _computare catholicus. _Manual computing is slowly going out of fashion as large corporations promise ever simpler computing interfaces and artificial intelligence makes the work of querying data as simple as a Google search. Public discourse is weighing the benefits and threats that AI will bring to civilisation, ranging from a utopia of total leisure to the complete destruction of the human race.

As the backend of computing slips over the horizon never to be seen again, the role of the computer scientists in maintaining large computing systems will be elevated in tandem with the growth of AI’s political and social power. AI technicians will have similar powers to tech CEOs today in determining the shape of public discourse and policy but on a worldwide scale. They are the material vanguard of our civilisation both in their work to push the technological frontiers of mankind and in their shared religious belief in technological progress. As the scale and complexity of AI grows, the barriers between science and myth will be smashed, and in its place man may place his faith in technology. It’s been done before. Man is given to worshipping the creation of his own hands and mythologising his mundane work practices.

The entropic decay of knowledge over time creates strange situations where technology comes to be used without fully understanding how it functions or it was built. The roads and aqueducts of Rome were used for centuries after the fall of Rome. Great pyramids were assumed to have been assembled by Gods or giants. Buildings and roads are one matter. A ‘brain’ possessing the sum of human knowledge at will whose origins are lost over time seems the obvious candidate for idolatry. And yet no religion is present in a culture that is not maintained or legitimises some sort of structure of power. Knowledge is inevitably warped by time and decay into traditions and rituals, often maintained by hierarchical structures of power in society.

It is easy to be skeptical about a catastrophic loss of knowledge in a time as complex as ours, where the knowledge of the world already at our fingertips with a Google search becomes even more easily accessible via GPT and future versions (or competitors). A cursory survey of the graveyard of civilisations, or our own contemporary struggles to maintain complex bodies of knowledge such as nuclear and aerospace technologies (the salient example is the role of COBOL and how few computer engineers today still have proficiency with the language) show that for all the complexity of our era, things are being lost that cannot easily or are never really recovered.

As AI consumes software and forms a critical substrate of the global economy and our societies, states increasingly rely on technologies like total surveillance and social media algorithms for the purpose of punishment and control. Social technologies, chief among them trust, are being rapidly eroded and replaced by material technologies. The centralisation of the internet shows that power is very much interested in shaping discourses and suppressing dissenters.

The longest term risk is that of religiously-driven technological hierarchies presiding over these levers of power and using them to quash dissent against their religious beliefs. They can monopolise knowledge of the inner workings of AI. AI will come to be imbued with theological significance as the loss of knowledge and increased power associated with this technology prove an irresistible concoction. As computers perform our thinking for us, we will stumble unknowingly into an era of technological control maintained by faith in the machine.

The secular conceit of our era is that men were shackled by religious hierarchies and freed by reason through science. What we see today is quite the opposite in the western hemisphere: unmoored from its Abrahamic Christian roots, men turn to making their own gods. Low idolatry, not ubermenschen, has emerged across our fragmented moral landscape. If atheism has failed, the most pertinent question is how man will recreate religion through technology, and to what degree they will go to protect that religion from heretics.

To remain human, belief in man is not enough. Belief in God is the only thing that will protect us from a cyborg theocracy.

Ahmed Askary

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