A Book in Review

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‘ Apocalyptic AI: ’ Future Schism

By Kenichiro Treglazov


‘Apocalyptic AI’

by Robert Geraci

Oxford University Press, 2010


“Apocalyptic AI” comes to us as a friend whose company carries a hidden price.

Robert Geraci outlines how pop science sells us what we already desire: a revolution of the spiritual self-underwritten by technology, faith for a God of real power. As a self-described surveyor of current trends, Geraci comes to us as a benefactor, a door-to-door Prometheus sampling fire. Yet he is irresponsible. He does not warn us that the fire whose coin-worth we weigh burns even as it brings light.

“Apocalyptic AI” describes a framework of traditional apocalyptic imagery surrounding our robust strides into machine intelligence. Geraci calls this a "theology" of robotics churned up by brilliant minds such as Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec. These visionaries have wed technological progress to such luminary promises as healing the lame through prosthetics, resurrecting the dead by simulating the personalities of the deceased, and even living as immortals free from bodily impurities by uploading consciousness into digital vessels unburdened by hormonal swagger. Geraci dubs this promise of paradise "Apocalyptic AI," the reconciliation of religious impulses with proven machine superiority.

Geraci frames the book as anthropological rather than polemic, a fitting hole where an Associate Professor of Religious Studies can bury his bones. He hides the skeleton of futurist Hugo de Garis in particular. De Garis's enthusiasm for a human-controlled future exceeds his peers' in boldness. Kurzweil and Moravec chain their visions to nominal "humanism;" they assume humanity's inherent superiority in gestures of species chauvinism. De Garis allows us the greater possibility of creating children who are superior to humanity. These ideas receive ignoble attention.

A coarser reader might overlook how Geraci parades de Garis's forward-thinking passion as a freakshow manifestation of Apocalyptic AI theology. The trick is rhetorical. He focuses upon de Garis's phrasing instead of the nobility of his ideas, repeating several times de Garis’s suggestion that one future, robotic child of humanity could have more value than the hoard of people who came before. The author massages Kurzweil and friends while letting de Garis cramp. Despite claims of anthropological calm, polemic rears its head in “Apocalyptic AI's” forbidding silence.

I do not wish to overly malign Robert Geraci. He handles the cutting edge visions of our time. No sympathetic reader can blame his recoiling from the harshest ideas, particularly if they are the most true. He is brave for simply showing up, and, to be sure, the promises of “Apocalyptic AI” are dear to my heart.

But truth is not lovable, Robert Geraci. Religion with no God is a synthetic menagerie, its transubstantiation merely sleight of hand. Boardwalk sermons do not save. Such beliefs need a governing intelligence to parse the best path from bramble.

This intelligence I pray we find.

- Kenichiro Treglazov


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