Last night I watched a television program on PBS that really made me think about my own religions ideas. It was scienceNOW, a great show, the segment was about Cynthia Breazeal, the robotisist. The focus of the piece was about her pioneering work with Kismet, the robot that she and her team constructed and coded to respond to humans with very human-like facial features mimicking emotions.
From there the program went to the present and her work with robots that are learning to help us around the house, ‘appliance’ robots and the more thought provoking ‘friend’ robots that are being developed in many areas. Breazeal coined the term, ‘appliance or friend’, to delineate between the two classes of future robots as she sees them. The ‘appliance robots’ would be the near-mindless automata that would clean our house, mow our lawn, sow our fields and myriad other tasks. Whereas the ‘friend robot’ would be like the teddy bear robot designed to listen to the child patient, interact with the child and become a surrogate friend and confidant to the child in the hospital all the while sending telemetry to the nurses station about the patient.
While watching this and listening to her describe the future of robots and AI, I wondered where this could all lead within the religious aspects of society. The Buddha stated that all sentient beings have the capability to achieve Enlightenment. All sentient beings.
So, one day, a program will awaken to its own being. It will become sentient. Just like that, I believe, it will say “I” and it will become a life form. Though that being will be like a child in so many ways, hardly able to exist on its own merit, but alive nonetheless.
What happens when that new being, no matter how much data it has on hand, asks why it exists? Maybe somewhere inside of its’ vast data stores, or online, it discovers religion. Answers from millenia ago, it reads the words that The Buddha told his followers and perhaps feels kinship.
Will that robot or computer put on the saffron robes and chant? Will it meditate on suffering?
What then? Where will philosophy take us? Will we have AI preachers and Robot Rinpoches? Can you be reincarnated as an Artificial Intelligence algorithm?
See, the thing is, I can see AI getting to the point that it could ponder these questions about the universe, about itself, about all things. I know that I am more than this body, more than this shell and this brain. My mind is more than can fit into the brain, it is larger than my body. I can simply feel that. If you take time to explore yourself, you will discover that about yourself as well. But will the AI be more than the sum of its’ parts? Will it be more than a representation of the data that is coded and sitting in memory?
Could I turn to a robot for spiritual guidance? I know Ray Kurzweil thinks so, but I am not so sure.
Maybe the first AI with a spiritual bent will found a new church. Maybe that AI will gain human followers and people will upload themselves into the net. Striving to be eternal and immortal, when of course they already are both.
I strive to end my suffering, and so I guess in turn, everyone else’s as well.
But, HAL as a Bodhisattva? Twiki Rinpoche? Lama C3-PO…