Comment

WT actual F

Silicon Valley

1 August 2018

Hindus have been creating and getting rid of gods for centuries, despite their supposed immortality. Two recently arrived deities include Jai Santoshi Maa, whose creation is often attributed to Bollywood cinema, and Bharat Mata, a product of India’s freedom movement. Recently, however, a different version of this practice has been observed outside India and in new and curious territories.

The latest addition to the worldwide pantheon of gods comes not from Varanasi but Silicon Valley, from a non-profit start-up registered in California by tech luminary Anthony Levandowski. Levandowski, who used to work for Google, has set up a religion to promote the worship of an artificial-intelligence lord. Called Way of the Future, the organisation describes its mission as being: “To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.” Way of the Future, therefore, has been created to elevate technological interaction to an act of reverence. It is surely incidental that the organisation’s acronym is WTF.

WTF is based on the unproven assumption that technology will eventually surpass human abilities. It will accord respect to our so-called “creations” – which it argues should have rights just as animals do. Levandowski told Wired that the religion would have its own gospel called “The Manual”, public worship ceremonies and probably a physical place of worship.

Meanwhile, WTF’s prophet can also be found at the centre of a much-publicised legal tussle between Waymo and Uber, his former employer. Having bought his autonomous trucking company Otto for $680m, Uber fired Levandowski in May 2017 amid allegations that he had stolen Otto’s self-driving technology from Google. What our new AI god would make of such legal and ethical wrangling remains to be seen.

Back in India, however, new gods are being created to further more virtuous causes. In recent years, an NGO called Manushi has invented a goddess of cleanliness, Swacch, as part of a programme to improve the lives of street traders in New Delhi, along with more conventional interventions like micro credit. One can only hope for a comparable AI-induced betterment of society.