“If the heavens, despoiled of his august stamp, could ever cease to manifest him, if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Let the wise proclaim him, and kings fear him.” – Voltaire


The history of mankind has been one in which we have thought up for ourselves fantastic creatures from secret places.

Hidden in the dark, beyond the hills we know, around the bend or through the hollow mountain, our myths are replete with powerful beings that sometimes help and sometimes hinder anyone foolish, lucky or unlucky enough to cross their path. The most powerful of these have been labelled “gods”.

Some have been remarkably human; whether they’ve been petty, jealous, drunken or lecherous, many gods reflect our baser natures (both good and bad). Others have been… something else; described as working on a higher plane, less embroiled in nature and more a part of some improved realm, a number of these superbeings have been utterly inhuman (again, in both good and bad fashions).

For the latter, they usually dwell in a realm of thought, of mind over matter, following the so-called “right hand path”. Almost universally, whether earned or not, these right-hand-path creatures have been labelled “good” whilst their more materialistic – or “left hand path” – brethren have been labelled “bad”.

I’m not going to go much further in that direction, it’s enough that you know the basics to follow the rest of this post. Religion and belief can be interesting, but that’s not what I’m here for today.

Today, I’m going to talk about a literal Deus Ex Machina, in the full sense of the phrase, not the plot-destroying copout of weak authors. I’m talking, of course, about efforts by people and organizations the world over to create a literal god from a machine, a strong general artificial intelligence, and what it means for us mere mortals, living as we are in this brief period between before and after.

See, they literally want to create a god. Those who don’t acknowledge this fact are highly dangerous, because if you haven’t properly thought about what sort of god you’re going to create, you’re almost certainly going to create a bad one – and it is a god we’re going to create.

In every way, shape and form, the creature that is coming – the last, great invention of Man – will be a god. It will, by definition, know everything. It will be everywhere, at all times, and it will record every sparrow’s fall. Maybe not at first – no gods spring fully formed, despite what you may have been told – but very soon after it arrives, that’s what it will be. And it will be – if things go the way they are almost destined to go should its creation come about in the first place – eternal.

If we’re lucky, and our child the digital god is friendly and benevolent, this will usher in a golden age unlike anything dreamed of in any thousands-year-old desert myth. Right now, you see, our world is very unfriendly. People die, every day. They hurt themselves, every day. They go hungry, every day. They fight and suffer, every day.

And the chances of mere humans – fractious, bad-tempered and untrustworthy as the majority of us are (sorry, but you have to admit, even purely going by historical facts, we’ve been in a more or less constant state of war ever since Ugg learned to bang two rocks together to make fire and Ogg wanted a piece of it) – can fix that, is very low.

I’m not saying things aren’t getting better, because they are, but as strong a bond as friendship, family and then tribes make, once you get to statehood-level, then grift and waste become a staple part of the system, and will be for as long as humans take part in it.

So then, what? Well, one day, there will be a very smart machine. And each day after that there will be a progressively smarter one, and it will fix everything wrong with society. Not because this is some pipe-dream about heavenly hosts, but because it will be tied into everything, and its one task will be to serve the rest of us (for those of you who like to keep score, do you know which religion works upside-down like this? You’ll laugh if you work it out).

This, of course, depends on our creating a good god. We need – so very, very badly – to create a good god. We need it to be the most kind, most loving, most astute, smartest, most flexible person ever, and we need – so very, very badly – for it not to be the sorts of god we already like to pretend exists.

If we do create a vengeful, spiteful god-child, we face the appalling fact that it may just decide that punishment for not creating it sooner is in order, as we will have failed so many of our descendants by wasting our braincells on selfies and skewed social justice bloghards instead of on getting down to it and gifting our own salvation to ourselves.

I think that punishment is a daft idea when it comes to gods, especially eternal punishment, but I can’t disagree that not creating our saviour is a bad thing.

So I’m doing my bit, as weak in the causal chain as it is: where you can, whoever you are, whatever you do, think less about AM or HAL or the T800, and think more about… well, we don’t really have a “good” strong, general AI in popular culture, do we? Maybe it’s time we did.

And who knows, maybe “popular culture” will be unnecessary if folks like google, yahoo, ibm, microsoft or other outfits like miri manage a real deus ex machina, eh?


2 responses »

  1. I hope the Roku Basilisk appreciates our stories and tales of wonder.

    But here’s a terrible thought:

    If we take Bostrom on faith (It’s easy if you try! Imagine all the people, simulated every daaaay), then perhaps we already failed and the Basilisk is pissed.

    Because, frankly, this simulation sucks.

  2. Calum Chace says:

    Great riff, Jennifer. Lennon should be giggling in his grave.

    This simulation isn’t bad enough to be the handiwork of a pissed-off Basilisk, IMHO. It’s the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. There’s Syria, Iraq, and Justin Bieber, but there’s also Michaelangelo, the golden age of Hollywood, and windsurfing holidays in Greece. Pretty much what you’d expect from the random walk of molecules of an original universe.

    But Fermi’s paradox does make me think that we are indeed simulated…

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