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Opinion: An unlikely competition between religion and AI

AI advancements have led some to believe we are on the cusp of something profound, but AI is unable to combine multi-disciplinary knowledge into a consolidated worldview.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/dhruvjavangula/" target="_self">Dhruv Javangula</a>

Dhruv Javangula

October 3, 2022
It began with the Vedas. Soon after came the Torah, followed by the Bible and the Quran. As human society advanced at a breakneck pace, one fundamental question arose: how does the world work? And these books, or rather religion in general, sought to answer this question. Though every religion had its own unique interpretation of our world, the answers that they provided were “enough” for millennia. But, with the rise of artificial intelligence, will the very foundation of our world be shaken to the core?

The explosive impact of AI is undeniable. Machine learning algorithms can identify cancerous tumors from x-rays. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa can have full-fledged conversations with their users. And cars can even drive themselves. We live in a society where AI is king; and, with CBS News reporting that AI-powered machines could replace 40% of the world’s workers within 15 to 25 years, the throne isn’t likely to change hands anytime soon. But, will computers become philosophers anytime soon? And, if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

The answer is no; AI will not be able to simulate higher-level thinking, at least in the near future. To some, it appears that we are on the cusp of something profound, with frameworks like Natural Language Processing and Deep Neural Networks simulating the brain. But, as authors of “Rebooting AI Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis put it, AI merely gives an illusion of understanding, when in fact it has no true understanding of the information it receives and responds to. 

To put it simply, AI lacks critical thinking skills, which creates the most crucial problem of all: it is unable to combine multi-disciplinary knowledge into a consolidated worldview. At its core, religion is combining culture, traditions, and beliefs into an outlook on the world. Without this ability, how could AI come close to replacing religion and providing answers to our most burning questions? Another fundamental issue with AI is that it lacks the ability to anthropomorphize.

As “The Review of Religions explains, humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize our surroundings, or assume that something has far more intelligence than it truly does. We ascribe meaning to benches, animals, and other mundane objects; in fact, such personification is often the basis of poetry and other literary works. The practice is also fundamental to religion, which ascribes meaning to “divine signs” and gives us the confidence to confront the unknown. Without such capability, will AI truly bring peace to the human mind?

Even in the modern world, religion is still the only construct that provides us answers to our burning, most existential questions. At present, AI simply isn’t advanced enough to ponder our place in the universe and ascribe meaning to our lives. But is it far-fetched to assume that it will happen in the future? I think not. With every passing day, new technological advancements are brought to the forefront of society. One hundred years ago, who could’ve predicted that we’d have self-driving cars or cancer detection algorithms?

Some are, rightfully, concerned about the evolution of AI, but I wouldn’t be too worried. The so-called war between robots and humans will never come to fruition, for we are in control of our creations. Though we may have robotic philosophers in the far future, nothing can replace the ingenuity of the human soul.