Earlier this year, famed Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari declared that a “non-human entity” may soon create “religions that are actually correct.”
Given that extreme skepticism of religious claims has been at the center of Harari’s career as a writer and historian, it is striking to hear Harari posit that, perhaps, a superintelligent machine will soon give birth to “correct” religions.
These comments were made during an interview with journalist Pedro Pint this past June, in which Harari argued that the creation of advanced artificial intelligence marks an unprecedented leap forward in human history.
Harari told Pint that AI is “the first technology ever that can create new ideas.”
“AI can create new ideas – can even write a new Bible,” he went on to say. “Throughout history, religions dreamt about having a book written by a superhuman intelligence, by a non-human entity. Every religion claims…‘Our book…came from some superhuman intelligence.’ In a few years, there might be religions that are actually correct. Just think about a religion whose holy book is written by an AI. That could be a reality in a few years.”
Harari also warned against such AI-created religions during a talk he gave in May, in which he stated the following: “In [the] future, we might see the first cults and religions in history whose revered texts were written by a non-human intelligence. And, of course, religions throughout history claimed that their holy books were written by a non-human intelligence. This was never true before – this could become true very, very quickly, with far-reaching consequences.”
It could be reasonably argued, then, that Harari misspoke in the June interview (though he has apparently made no public retraction).
Even if Harari misspoke in this instance, however, his statement is not far removed from the statements of other prominent atheist thinkers, who have spoken of the advent of advanced artificial intelligence in similarly messianic terms.
One example is Sam Harris, a fellow Jewish, atheist intellectual, who has publicly spoken with Harari many times about AI and the future of humanity.
During a panel on superintelligence, which included many of the world’s leading AI thinkers and developers, Harris said that he hoped a superintelligent machine would create what amounts to a new morality for humanity: “I would want a truly value-aligned superintelligence to incrementally show us – not merely conserve what we want, but show us what we should want, to keep improving our values, so that we can navigate in the space of all possible experiences, and converge on better and better ones.”
The similarity between Harris’ dream (a superintelligent machine “improving our values,” and showing humanity “what we should want”) and Harari’s statement (AI-created “religions that are actually correct”) is worthy of note.
Such ideas are born out of an atheistic, evolutionary worldview embraced by both Harris and Harari, which prophesies that humanity will soon enter a virtually-inevitable, transformational period often referred to as “the Singularity,” in which the emergence of superintelligent machines will forever change not only the course of human history, but humanity itself.
While there is much debate about whether this Singularity will be good or bad for humanity, when and how it will take place, and what exactly it may look like, there seems to be little debate in Harari’s intellectual circles as to whether it will take place.
Along with much of the leadership of Silicon Valley, Harari believes that this is the destination to which evolutionary history is heading.
And while he spends much of his time warning about the potential dangers the Singularity may bring, Harari nowhere argues that it must be stopped.
Harari’s views on religion, the Singularity and the nature of humanity will be explored in Part 2 of this series.
Jacob Leonard Rosenberg is an American-Israeli, an Evangelical Christian and the son of the founder of ALL ISRAEL NEWS. He writes about the intersection of science, technology, individual liberty and religious freedom.