Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Regarding Artificial Intelligence... And Religion

About a year ago, I wrote the following but never published it. Since I don't have anything new to write about tonight, I'm posting this instead. It breaks one of the NaBloPoMo rules - no pre-written content - but och well. I'm practicing being unperfectionistic.

Last night, my hubby and I went out for a much needed date, just the two of us, no kids. Gotta thank the parents for babysitting! We went on a 'high school' date, aka, cheap and cheerful, Taco Bell for dinner and a dollar movie [dollar cinema now closed!]. We saw Johnny Depp's new(ish) movie, Transcendence.

I'm one of those people who after watching a sci-fi movie, especially on the big screen, comes out of the theater feeling all, well, sci-fi-y. I'm the same with horror; first time I saw Final Destination, I drove home certain that street lights were flickering ominously and death was prowling around me to get its due. So after leaving a film about artificial intelligence, I began imagining my brain was a computer, with an uploadable consciousness.

We put on one of our current favorite albums for the drive home, Quiet Company's We Are All Where We Belong, a brilliant 'coming-out atheist' album. My mind started to wander...

"I know this is going to sound so cheesy, but in a way, it's like our brains really are computers, and all it takes is a little virus to deprogram the whole thing."

My husband, not finding this as cheesy as I feared, agreed. (Which is good, considering my programming knowledge is very old and probably obsolete, not having worked with data and coding in ten years.  In other words, please excuse any errors that may now follow.)  I started talking about the moment I specifically got 'infected' with the virus; the moment it dawned on me that Jesus Christ might not actually ever be coming back. I remember that exact moment so distinctly. And seeing it from a computing point of view, I started to imagine the so-called virus corrupting my original programming, slowly at first but eventually wiping out the system completely.

The moment I first considered that Jesus was not coming back was like opening a corrupted file. Over the following weeks and months, the belief system I'd held my whole life began to fall apart. It all started to unravel, like a computer virus scanning all my files and wiping them out. After three years, the system was completely wiped, gone, deleted. The faith that had been my operating system had been destroyed.

But a virus isn't right. A virus corrupts. I don't feel like what happened to me corrupted me. "What else could it be then," I asked my techie husband. "A factory reset?"

"More like an upgrade," he responded. Our default setting, he argued, IS religion. We from infancy anthropomorphize everything; it's the only way we understand the world. We tend to think that the world thinks like us, that everything has meaning or reason. Our ancient ancestors saw the sun and believed it had a spirit and a will. We believe bad things happen for a reason. We imagine that the universe works in a humanly rational way. We want to make sense of why we are here, so we create divine beings to explain our existence, and we rely on this deity for order. Our factory settings kind of are religious.

It takes an upgrade, or perhaps a patch, to rise above that.

This, of course, is highly debatable, depending on what side of the 'program' you fall on. For religious people of all kinds, saying that religion is a factory setting is right! Of course, because God made us that way. God made us to need him. And as we go through life and discover this need for religion, we are pointed to God (or Ra or Allah or Brahma or whomever). To the religious, atheism (or agnosticism) is definitely a virus in the worst sense. A corruption to the system. Something in an email we don't want to open (so we don't open). We stay far away from viruses of doubt to ensure we keep the programs operating as they should, keep the system clean.

But to a non-believer, it's as I said earlier. It's an upgrade. It's taking a system that had faults to begin with and improving upon it. The original OS had some bugs, but there has been new software released that can improve the system's performance. However, you've got to open up that email with the instructions on how to compile the new or changed files to get the patch.

For me, maybe that moment I first realized Jesus may not be coming back like the Bible said he would, wasn't so much a virus that corrupted my system, but a source code modification. How it got there, I'm not sure (was it an executable file, begging the question, IS there a manufacturer someone releasing patches? Are we all actually existing in a virtual reality like The Matrix?), but however it was executed, I'm glad it was. It has definitely improved my system's performance.

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