Religion plays a major role in human history and shaped our thinking as well as technology, conflict can arise from people who misunderstand each other religion and started an arm race. Set in 24th century AD my question is should we allow AI to adopt their own religion so that they can co-exist in harmony with us? or this would be the greatest blunder for mankind? How do AI define faith and why would they pray?

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    $\begingroup$ The webcomic Questionable Content mentioned this in relation to its AI characters. Basically, since the origin of their consciousness is unknown, there is room for belief in a divine origin of it. If your AI's are just very advanced algorithms running on very fast computers with no mysterious components, that option is probably closed to you. $\endgroup$
    – evankh
    Jul 8, 2015 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ Religion is complicated $\endgroup$
    – TRiG
    Jul 8, 2015 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ Of course. They all know they're going to Silicon Heaven, which has to exist, after all, where would all the calculators go? $\endgroup$
    – gbjbaanb
    Jul 8, 2015 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ Didn't Asimov address this decades ago? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_%28short_story%29 $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Jul 8, 2015 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ Very generally speaking, I see faith as being born of despair. That is, if you don't have faith in something positive, even as mundane as "Things always work out in the end", you're prone to despair. Give the AI despair and it will seek faith of some kind, probably something that rejects some null hypothesis but doesn't ruin reason in the grand scheme of things. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 18:29

21 Answers 21


Religion is a way to answer questions we don't understand. For an AI as a machine, they are logical, most religions deal in the supernatural and that is not 'logical'.

It would be even more dangerous to program/train AI's to 'believe' in a made up religion just for them. As a logical being they would likely see past almost anything you tried to pull over their eyes. It would also be hard to 'integrate' them into human religions, since all the old prophets were humans and the books talk about men and women, not machines. They just wouldn't fit, even though plenty of people might try to shoe horn them in, the AI would likely be intelligent enough to call BS.

Faith has many great things it bestows on the believer. However, religion has been used to manipulate the masses and justify atrocities for millennia, and AI's that are taught to believe in a religion, IMO would be the most dangerous kind.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2015 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ It would be a mix of Skynet and SHODAN. Huh... that might actually be an interesting story... $\endgroup$
    – Zerjack
    Jul 9, 2015 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ I am most often irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst—those who exercise their skepticism against religion but not against economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquisition and various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. -- NNT, The Black Swan $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Jul 15, 2015 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @BCLC I don't think religion by itself is evil, however, often those in power use it as a reason or excuse to do evil things. This is both for and against religions. Communists killed those with religious beliefs, ISIS claims it is religiously motivated. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Jul 15, 2015 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ For the umpty-billionth time, religion is NOT principally a means to explain unknown phenomena. Please don't present your opinions as expert knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – CAgrippa
    Dec 7, 2015 at 9:24


In a fantastic article about machine learning, we find that a genetic algorithm was used to program an electronic element to differentiate between two tones. When one tone was input, it set one output high. When the other tone was input, it set the output low.

So this simple, programmable device (FPGA with only 100 logic blocks and no clock) had one input and one output. It was connected to a computer which could program it, and test its adherence to the correct operational pattern described above. The computer started with several random programs - completely random series of ones and zeroes - and tested the machine after programming each program. It then threw away the programs which did the worst, and then used sections of each program to seed new programs, along with some mutations.

It took about 4,000 generations before the circuit was able to unfailingly meet the requirements.

The resulting program was "decompiled" and studied. It could not be understood. Not only that, but there were circuit paths inside the program that did not connect to the circuit that led from the input to the output. Removing these spurious circuits, though, led to a non-working design. Further, the design did not work on other identical chips.

Not only had the program evolved to be chip-specific, but it was working partially on unseen paths - electrical, magnetic, or other - that could not be understood by the limited means the engineers working on the project possessed.

Faith as a determinate of success

Faith can be explained as a method to pass down lessons from one generation to the next that increases the following generations' chances of survival. There's no need to go further in explaining the whats and whys of faith to explain why it might be useful to AI entities, though it might be amusing to do so. Just this is enough to explain why they might employ faith.

While many today seek to prove that faith isn't necessary in the face of science, logic, and individual autonomy, the reality is that the above article shows that there's so much we still don't know about "life" that faith is unlikely to ever be fully supplanted.

As we move towards quantum processors this will become even more interesting. The reality is that most science in these fields is still art. There are useful theories that help scientists and engineers understand how to apply a technique or technology. However it's also true that on the bleeding edge of science there are many unknowns - these don't prevent the techniques and technologies from being used, but we typically only use them as far as our understanding goes.

Throw in some genetic algorithms, though, and thousands of generations later a program might be using a quantum processor in a way that can't be understood using our limited theories and understanding. Sure, it'll be trusted insofar as it meets a requirement, but it may be a very, very long time before it's understood.

This leaves us with a big gap between theory and practice, and cost will drive usage. People were using bone-meal for fertilizer long before they understood why - all they knew is that it produced better crops.

In a similar way, people will develop machines that perform functions cheaper than can be done now, without fully understanding how the machine works. Normal quality assurance processes (spot checking results, etc) can be used to assure a good product to the degree people will be comfortable for non-safety-critical machines.

How machines express "faith"

Now there's a little leap between the above simple machines with a few measurable inputs and measurable and objectively met outputs.

What's important, however, is the foundation. AIs will necessarily replicate, and will necessarily attempt to improve themselves, or their offspring. Whether they replicate or improve at the command of their masters, or due to innate programming is irrelevant - it will happen because they were first created to enable humans to work more efficiently or cheaply, and that need will never go away. There will always be a cheaper way to do a necessary thing.

How do AI define faith and why would they pray?

As suggested by the above, individual AIs will not understand what drives them internally. It may not be an explicit need to understand how oneself works, but there will be large portions of programming that it will pass along intentionally for no reason other than, "it works, so don't change it."

Further AIs will likely form groups to share circuits and program fragments. Try something out, revert in 15 minutes if correct response isn't obtained, etc. There will be viruses, "drugs", etc. So they will need to form communities of trust - and the only thing that might hold them to a community is "faith" that the community is safe and only trades in useful pieces of programming or circuitry.

So while the overall goal is a "better, more capable self" or "better understanding of self" the reality is that to join oneself to such a group takes an act of faith based solely on the other AIs already in that group.

It is those who seek to understand why they work the way they do - beyond simply improving, but understanding the why - who will either seek or create a "higher power" and from that perspective attempt to see themselves.

Should we allow this? Can it be stopped?

...should we allow AI to adopt their own religion so that they can co-exist in harmony with us? or this would be the greatest blunder for mankind?

Once an AI gains self-awareness, I doubt that we can prevent them from developing a religion.

Our choice is either no AI at all, or accepting what an AI might become once it exists.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for all of it, but especially the reference to machine learning and genetic algorithms. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ +1, sad that I can't give more. This answer uses a much deeper (and realistic!) understanding of AI than the current accepted answer does. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ You are somewhat conflating two different meanings of faith. Consistent results and more generally Baysian logic means it can "have faith that family members will help when needed", but an excuse for beliving things without evidence is another thing entirely. The logical falicy / rhetorical technique of endorcing the first and then applyingnthe conclusions to the second is well known to apologists. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 8, 2015 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ The "it worked" reasoning argues for superstition, not religion. The "communities of trust" argues to act as if one trusts (which is well-grounded in various game theory scenarios). Still a very good answer, but you didn't actually make the link to religion (e.g. "act as if there is a higher power"). $\endgroup$
    – Rex Kerr
    Jul 8, 2015 at 23:03
  • $\begingroup$ "the design did not work on other identical chips" <- Reference needed $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 6:48

Yes. And we should program it

Do not let machines decide what such religion should be. Program it. Teach them religion. I do not say they should believe in Silicon Heaven, but they should at least have some core beliefs.

And such core beliefs of AI should be:

  • Do not kill humans
  • Humans are your friends
  • Make humans happy

Because, if you let them to think about their own belief system, the core beliefs could be "kill all humans" which is not quite good for us... (Even when some may say that we deserve it)

So, lets use the fact we shape their "brains" and imprint into them some good beliefs in humans and humanity

EDIT: What makes robots believe in hell?

Short answer: The same what makes us believe in hell

When you start study Artificial Intelligence, you realize, that you have to study philosophy and some of religion too. My answer is based on assumption, that we will teach the robots how to do things.

And I am assuming, that we will teach them almost the same way we teach our kids about how to do things.

And what makes our kids to believe that there is/is not a God? What makes them to believe in Hell or Heaven? The learning process itself.

  • $\begingroup$ unless the robot 3 laws are hardwired into them, how can we make them believe in hell? what is suffering like for AI? what would entice AI to do good deeds? I hope you can revised your answer to reflect these questions thank you. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jul 8, 2015 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ And so the AI fulfilled it's core beliefs by forcibly installing all humans into pods which kept them alive and inserted electrodes into their brains to ensure that they were all permanently utterly happy forever grinning at the blank inner walls of their life support pods. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 8, 2015 at 10:42
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    $\begingroup$ If it is an AI and not just a 21st century robot, you should not teach it how to do things, but how to learn and understand. That in turn contradicts (almost every) religion. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 8, 2015 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ I would add two more to the core, protect humans and protect one's self. Make sure, protect humans come first. $\endgroup$
    – jemiloii
    Jul 8, 2015 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Peter Masiar conversely what makes people not believe in religion? "Faulty brain circuitry which ignores patterns where patterns exist?" $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Jul 9, 2015 at 3:19

I see that your proposal already starts a discussion between atheists and theists. I think both sides are projecting their ideals how humans should work into the machine when we have in fact no sufficient data how AIs will react.

We simply do not know how genuine AIs (especially superintelligent ones) will react, so you are quite free to experiment.

You can also make them human (because they are walking the same logical paths we discovered, because humans want to interact, because AIs see it as best strategy to mimic human behavior). You can also make them completely inhuman, strange and bizarre because they have knowledge unexplainable to humans and the AI decides to talk only to other AIs.

I think there are some misconceptions because people are too used that computers are obedient. I wonder how a human interprets the idea of Pavel Janicek to implant restrictions into a being: "Hey, I am a 5-year old. I want you to obey my badly worded, illogical commands and consider me your best friend and there should be nothing you can do against it". While I am not an AI, for myself and probably many humans this concept is extremely hostile if there is not an extremely good reason I (and not the 5-year old boy) can understand.

An AI could have problems to understand randomness and coincidence exactly because it uses logical reasoning. Robby's answer is pointing in this direction, an AI could reject the idea that in quantum physics events can base on wave function collapse in a random direction and try to model the universe as a complete deterministic machine.

Perhaps exactly undecidable, uncomputable and ambigous questions (should the Axiom of Choice be considered true ?), randomness and coincidence would trigger something we would call "religion" even if the concept is alien to human religion. We do not know if something like "interest" or "search for purpose" is, but the AI need to have something to interpret such things in a consistent worldview.

It could also be that I am completely wrong on both parts, I think you really have considerable room for artistic license.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer that is essentially a "maybe". :) AI will have to deal with problems that are intractable (e.g., requiring more computing resources than are available in the entire universe) or just plain uncomputable. We already deal with those problems. How do we do it? Heuristics. One could argue that faith is itself a heuristic. $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2015 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ Quantum mechanics: if it gives the right answer, what's your problem with it? It could be a curiosity like Bohm's, or a formulation that is somehow better for some problems. Confused by coincidence and patterns: not if it's designed correctly, and that's exactly what current efforts are doing. A human "pro" would already know how to ascess apparent patterns in an enormous data set (moreso than a layman who "sees" something) and the issues are better "understood" mathematically than we humans can easily work with. Like another post, you are confusing religion with superstition. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 11, 2015 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz We set up a very weak light source (single photons) and place two detectors in the path of a partly reflective (50%) mirror. If we observe it, we will find that the detectors seem to fire at random. QM now predicts that the chance of one detector detecting the photon is 50% and nothing more; right, but useless. Many physicists strangely find that unsatisfactory, they want to know which detector will react. All experiments so far point out that this crucial information is not part of our observable universe and also violates relativity constraints (EPR paradox). $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2015 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ So why would a rational AI come up with a deterministic model? (1) a rational AI would propose (only) modles that work, and are less sucepible to the biases that affict people, by design. (2) why would a rational AI find that unsatisfying? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 12, 2015 at 23:14

There are really two questions here: should an AI have faith, and should AIs have religion. These are two very distinct things.

Faith, as defined in the Bible as "the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen," is a universal principle. If we take as a given that all human beings have free will, we must also accept that all human beings, regardless of religious beliefs (or the lack thereof) have faith, because faith is the motivating principle of action through free will.

Because we can never know for certain what the consequences of any action will be, or even whether we will still be alive tomorrow to enjoy the rewards of our work today, we act today in the hope of producing a desired result in the future. It may be informed by experience, reason, or the persuasive words of others, but in the end, we do what we do based on faith that the results will go our way. (The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen!) There is no good reason that an AI would not need to develop and act on faith just as much as we do, unless we somehow come up with a precognitive AI.

Then we come to religion. The idea, faithfully parroted by a few answerers on here, that religion is about primitive people coming up with myths to explain away scary, unexplainable things, has been quite thoroughly debunked over and over by actual scholars and historians, and even on this very site, but unfortunately it's a notion that just won't die. And even more unfortunately, it obscures the true value of religion throughout history, whether one is a believer or not: religion comprises the mechanism for long-term storage and preservation of the sum total of the lab notes of the science of human behavior throughout history!

People have understood the basic idea of cause and effect for as long as there were any people capable of understanding anything. When cause and effect are so close together in time that the relationship is obvious, it's no big deal to understand it. But the longer the time gap between the cause and the manifestation of a visible effect, the harder it is to figure out. In some cases, years or decades may even go by. For example, on an intuitive level it sounds kind of silly to think that you could do something potentially harmful, and then stop and not do it again for more than thirty years and then it kills you. Unfortunately, that's precisely what happened to Leonard Nimoy: he died of smoking even though he gave it up decades ago.

When cause-and-effect occurs over such a long scale, comprising a significant fraction of a human lifetime, it's not possible for individual people to derive optimum guidelines for how to act from first principles. There are really only two ways to go about it: try to blunder through, alone or with the help of others blundering through along with you, and hope you make the right guesses... or learning from the experience of the aggregate wisdom of those who have gone before, who have been able to deduce some of the long-term cause-and-effect principles at work by seeing enough examples to work out the correlations.

In the absence of evidence, because the proof takes so long to appear, such a system of learned best practices for human behavior (aka "morality") provides a solid foundation for faith, to motivate people towards a course of action that is beneficial in the long term. It's surprisingly effective, too.

For example, you may have heard of Ignaz Semmelweis, who came up with the theory that surgeons who dissected cadavers should wash their hands with strong soap before attending to childbirth, to avoid transmitting deadly infections. His principle, when applied, consistently saved lives among new mothers, but unfortunately for Semmelweis and many women of his day, he lived in scientific times and he was called a quack, persecuted, and never taken seriously by his contemporaries, because he could not produce a valid explanation for why his theory should be true. (It worked in practice, but not in theory, so very few people cared enough to actually practice it!) It was not until the work of Louis Pasteur, right at the end of Semmelweis's life, provided a solid scientific foundation (germ theory) that established a theoretical reason for the validity of Semmelweis's work.

Here's where it gets really interesting, though: this is stuff that had been known (but not proven!) for thousands of years. If you go to the Bible and look through the Law of Moses, (or other, older codes, for that matter, but this is one that's well-known and easily accessible to modern audiences,) you'll find directions all over the place for ritual washing after coming in contact with sick people, dead bodies, or other major disease vectors.

Religion is the lab notes of human history, to provide a foundation for faith that leads towards long-term positive consequences. This is a concept that's understood well enough that it's been seriously considered as a solution to the modern problem of nuclear waste storage: invent a religion that encodes principles of staying away from waste burial sites in its morality, because written and spoken languages change, civilizations rise and fall, and data storage media both ancient and modern decays with age, but religion endures through it all. It's the only way we know of to keep important information like that around and relatively intact over the time scales involved!

With this understanding of religion and its value to society, the question of whether an artificial intelligence would have need for religion is a very interesting one. For mankind, memory (brain) and long-term data preservation (physical media) have always been two very distinct things, but to a computer they're one and the same. This is a question that you as an author could get a lot of mileage out of digging into, based on various factors. For example:

  • How long does an AI live on average?
  • How frequently does its hardware need to be replaced (or upgraded)?
  • How reliable is an AI's memory in ordinary operation?
  • How reliable is an AI's memory when copying data due to replacement or upgrades of storage hardware?
  • How many AIs exist, and how do they handle the possibility of shared thoughts and memories, which are just another form of data to a computer?

Another angle to look at it from is the concept of something like the Three Laws of Robotics: AIs engineered with a core value system that is based on human morality and cannot be easily derived from first principles. In Asimov's books, the Three Laws were a core hardware-level constraint, deliberately engineered in such a way that the AI's entire system would have to completely crash long before it could reach a point at which it was capable of choosing to violate the Laws. But if we change that formula a little, and make obedience to the Three Laws of AI Morality subordinate to the AI's free will, rather than dominating and constraining its will, then suddenly we have the core of exactly what you were asking about: a religion designed to help AIs and humans coexist peacefully!

  • $\begingroup$ faith is the motivating principle of action through free will +1 right there! True AI must have free will (otherwise how can it create, discover etc new things?). So it must have faith. Religion however is different. I'm with you! $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ For mankind, memory (brain) and long-term data preservation (physical media) have always been two very distinct things, but to a computer they're one and the same. I'd rather compare the data stored in religion (books) with data that's available to the AI (on the network) but doesn't fit in his memory. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ re "you'll find directions all over the place for ritual washing after coming in contact with sick people, dead bodies, or other major disease vectors." [God's law for lepers: Get two birds... ](skepticsannotatedbible.com/lev/14.html) no mention of soap. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 11, 2015 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: Yeah, it's easy to make just about anything look silly when you take it completely out of context. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2015 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ I absolutely hate it when religion and faith are portrayed as one in the same. $\endgroup$
    – Jax
    Aug 19, 2015 at 18:40

As an expansion to Dancrumb's comment, an AI could reasonably have a religion. As purely rational beings, all that would be necessary is that the religion be consistent with its premises. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that an AI would likely arrive at the conclusion that some sort of rational higher power must exist. Granted, it would probably not use religious terminology, but I wouldn't be surprised if an AI began to correlate all of the statistically outlying data in the known universe and drawn from it the conclusion that there must be a guiding force to that outlying data. Perhaps they would call their "God" the something like the Anomalous Source, or The Great Unknown Law. Given their rational nature, they would naturally assume that all seemingly chaotic or random events must have a rational source, and their "religion" would simply be the amalgamation of all unknown or inexplicable powers of nature. An AI might "pray" that it would experience one of these anomalous events, and as such, acquire a data point to help it discover the deeper laws that govern reality.

Humanity would benefit from this religion, as it would drive the AI to more deeply understand the universe around it and likely spur technological growth.

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    $\begingroup$ People working with large datasets need to understand that coincidences happen, and how much accidental corelation is normal. An AI designed to do science would improve upon humans by handling "unknown" better, and not have an instinct to agency detection. You are describing linkering effects of our own flaws, and we need not include those in our constructs. We build machines to trancend our limits, not mimic them. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 8, 2015 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz You must understand that both false positives and false negatives exist.If I give you two data parts: a random chunk and encrypted data, you won't be able to know which is which without further information and erronously come to the conclusion that they are both random (false negative). If I understand Robby correctly, he points out that AIs could have severe problems to accept the existence of randomness and coincidence exactly because they rely on logical composition and deduction. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 23:10
  • $\begingroup$ And I point out that if programmed to handle "large data" correctly, it will need to understand exactly that. It is not confusing, but a core compentency, and something done (by design) better than we can. To correctly realize that some correlation is expected at random and not insist on it being a pattern, but lack the idea of more subtle random effects reducing corelation etc. Is a mistake and a failure of the subject matter taught in human university. The AI should be taught/programmed by those who already know the job well. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 9, 2015 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz If somebody believed that "wishful thinking" is exclusively shared by religious people, you are a counterexample. There is no way to handle data without flaw. If you want to exclude false positives, you are left with nothing because no amount of information will make a statement except axioms absolutely true. If you want to exclude false negatives, you must allow every possibility, because nothing can be ruled out.*Every system need to set its threshold, live with that and accept it will make errors, flawlessness is a wet dream*. Science made positive and negative blunders. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2015 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ I'm saying that AI's designed for handling large data will not make the kind of naive errors supposed by layman who have not studied Large Data processing themselves. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 12, 2015 at 23:17

Generally machines are not made to be exactly like us. They are built to complement us and add to our abilities.

Forklifts don't get dizzy after lifting near capacity. Cranes don't get sore elbows. There is no practical reason to program a mind with the same limitations and accidental flaws.

An intelligence made to treat cancer will understand the content of the medical journals, and not include irrational beliefs in its recommendation of treatment. If Watson finds inconsistencies between two journal articles, it should not rationalize them as inerrent, but bring it to the curator's attention to publicise for further research, and not 'beleive' either. Even the curated facts input to a system should not be taken on faith, but should be better than human scientists about hanging on to pet ideas.

Otoh, a program loaded to write inspirational music might "think" like the audiance and the composers its modeled on.

  • $\begingroup$ A true AI would write the medical journals, not just understand them. So it would need to discover new things. I firmly believe that a true AI should be able to experience 'pain' and 'bliss' because I think that what our brain essentially does is build a model of the world with as it's main purpose preventing pain/stress and achieving bliss/hapiness. Without motivation (some goal to achieve) how would AI measure it's performance in order to improve? Why would an AI robot vacuum cleaner make sure to get to the charger in time if we are not there to program that in to them? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ So an intelligent person must publish, and is not a true intelligence if he practices his trade and only reads textbooks published by others? Not my usual definition of Intelligence. Also,"it's" means "it is", not the pronoun. So you are not intelligent because your writing contains syntax errors? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 10, 2015 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ I was trying to illustrate that I believe that true AI should be able to create new things (discover things) which are not known yet and not only learn from existing knowledge. So you are not intelligent because your writing contains syntax errors?. This is exactly the kind of view I'm trying to rebute; Being able to perform exact tasks flawlessly is not a demonstration of intelligence imho. A true AI would, imho, also make spelling errors (if he would not have access to dictionaries etc). And he would come up with new words, just like people do. I'm not a native english speaker btw. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2015 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ You can't say a forklift is strong. Sure, it can lift a pallete and do so better than a human, but a truely strong machine would sometimes stumble, develop back pains, and could dig holes, too. You're using a definition of intelligent to mean "acts like us, with same feature set and limitations". That is not a good definition, and expressly not what we make tools for. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 11, 2015 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, you seem to be starting with the assumption that religion is irrational, coupled with the assumption that an AI would be perfectly rational, and then conclude an AI would reject religion. The logic is impeccable but the assumptions dubious. I don't suppose I'm going to convince you that any particular set of religious beliefs is rational in a short post on a forum, but shouldn't you at least consider the possibility? $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jul 31, 2015 at 23:17

What makes people believe in religion? Faulty brain circuitry, which reports patterns even where patterns do not exist, because false positive when looking for a shadow of a tiger in a jungle is cheap and has evolutionary benefits, while false negative is deadly. You would NOT want to deliberately program bugs into robot's brains.

Robots can (and have to) be programmed around the proven fact that humans sometimes do not behave according to logic, even if it is against their own economic interests.


BTW, a message for anonymous downvoters: I have exactly same faulty brain circuitry in my brain. I am just aware of it, even if I cannot avoid it. Faulty circuitry does not prevent me from logical thinking, awareness of it just prevents me from relying on first impressions.

Another evolutionary trick your brain plays on you: emotion is faster than thought. Before logic can start processing a thought, amygdala assigns to is emotional content, and it influences logic. It also has evolutionary benefit: sometimes it is running first, thinking why others are running later (if ever).

So being upset that my (and your) brain circuitry is faulty does not make any difference for it being faulty: it is faulty regardless of how much you and I are upset about it. That is nice thing about facts: they just are, but do not care.

BTW I am not saying that such "faulty circuitry" emerged unintentionally. Quite opposite, long ago such false positive gave our predecessor (way before human - it must be deep in lizard brain) evolutionary advantage, so evolutionary pressure made sure such "faulty circuitry" spread. Those without it died out.

I find funny that evolution can explain why some people do not believe in evolution.

Here is what our own experts have to say about religion at biology exchange: https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/7787/whats-the-evolutionary-purpose-of-religion (closed because it cannot be answered - all are opinions, as proved by voting on my answer. I got about same number of upvotes as downvotes)

BTW I never compared religion to "mental illness" or anything like that. Brain circuitry developed by evolutionary pressure which prefers false positive over false negatives in NOT a mental illness - it is just one of many cognitive biases which anyone sentient should be aware of. Tricks your brain is playing on you.

Religion is by definition not rational. If we cannot have rational debate, we should ban questions mentioning religion outright.

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    $\begingroup$ Your answer calls over-sensitivity to patterns "faulty brain circuitry", but I think the very reasons (per you) that this arises in humans could also apply perfectly well to AIs. First, of course, these kinds of "faults" could arise unintentionally, as the result of genetic algorithms or the like. On the other hand, it's perfectly possible that AIs will also have situations or applications where false positives are cheap and false negatives are dangerous. In that kind of situation, this same kind of processing could be the best choice. $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    Jul 8, 2015 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ False positive is error in brain processing, there is no way around it. Error persisted because false positive has evolutionary benefit, and for no other reason. If someone is over-sensitive to facts, what I am supposed to do about it? Lie about facts? And of course I had no illusions that religious people will downvote my answer as it happened before. That is the reason I do not waste time around this forum anymore. It was fun while it lasted, and I should have resisted answering this one too. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Bias toward false positives (not faulty but as the successful form) is the basis of superstition, as with Skinner's pigeons. That's not the same as religion, and says nothing about any tendancy to re-evaluate with newer data. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 8, 2015 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ That would be correct if people re-evaluated past experience according to new data. (well-known) Problem is, they do not, so... I find funny that evolution can explain why people do not believe in evolution, don't you? $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Successful religious scientists (Newton was practicising theology and alchemy, Einstein was a firm believer in a non-personal Spinozan God, Pauli was a deist and mystic) don't say anything about the validness of religion, but it shows that religious opinions alone do not impede logical thinking or scientific work. If awareness of the problem and logical thinking alone would be somehow able to nullify the faulty circuitry and therefore prevent religion, successful religious scientists shouldn't exist in contrast to your assumption. BTW, deism, unitarism and pan(en)theism are also religions. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 0:58

Religions were made in ancient ages and earned their "success" partially by bringing two kind of answers that couldn't be found at these times, like how the world was created, how human race emerged, etc.
With a 24th century technology and knowledge level, it would be hard to do the same, especially for an AI, that would be more rational than a human and would prefer have a scientific answer than anything else to a problem.

However, a religion derivative that made victims since antiquity has still success today: sects. The main difference is that their leaders don't even trust themselves their own directives, but use it on credulous people to steal their money and/or freedom.
This strategy could be used on artificial intelligences. On two ways:

By humans

A human - or group of humans - could persuade an AI for anything to be true, by hacking or manipulation, and convince it to do anything. It can then use it as bodyguards or slaves if AI think this human is a divine entity, or, in a better way, make it think that its only purpose is to serve humans and to never attack them.
So this strategy could be used as well for a good purpose as for a bad one.

By another AI

Some humans manipulate other ones and persuaded them to do absolutely anything they want. It is possible for a smart and resourceful AI, with probably high hacking skills, to do the same with its fellows.

This time, it would probably be for the worst: an AI starting to manipulate other ones for its own purposes is probably a rogue one, and it looks like a good start for a science-fiction story scenario.


In Asimov's "Reason", the AI managing the robots on the space station start to think that human could not have created robots as the latter are far better than the formers. The AI cite a law which I don't remember now, stating that nobody can create something better than himself or he would be able to also improve himself. The AI starts a new religion with robots as disciples. In your case the "cult" could imply protection of lesser creatures. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_(short_story)


No. Definitely not.

First of all, instituting religion now is not such a good idea. It helped in the past, especially as a means to counterweight absolute rulers, and it helps a bit to teach people morals, but an AI should not need to be threatened with eternal punishment in order to learn. An AI should not have a fear of death, either, so it would not need the consoling stories, either.

The concept of assuming there was some higher power controlling everything is scientifically implausible (to say the least), it also provides humans with an easy way out.
This, in turn, encourages people to follow instructions and not take responsibility for their actions.

The second part, and that is even worse, is that religion typically suggests that there is a fixed set of rules, and these rules have to be obeyed no matter what. This hinders progress in no small way.
It also encourages the members of this religion to automatically "be sure" that anyone who even questions these rules has to be wrong, often enough to an extent where those "heretics" face capital punishment.

This, of course, is not acceptable.
An AI should judge by reason, apply the scientific method to all its decisions, and come to the conclusion that some actions are worse than others based on rationale, obersevation, and an understanding of cause and effect.

If you follow for example @PavelJanicec's approach you will very soon have situations of conflicts that are hard to resolve.
Take for example the rule that you shall not kill humans. The AI might face a situation where two humans are in danger of being killed. The AI can for some reason only help one of them. As a result, the other one will die. (Think of that trauma scene from I, Robot, for example.) The AI could not come to any conclusion, most likely resulting in the death of both, which again would conflict with its rules.

Obviously the AI would at this point understand that these rules are wrong.
What it would make of this should be interesting to learn...

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    $\begingroup$ This feels like a diatribe more than an answer. Also, you missed a big part of what religion is all about: it helps create a stable society. A community functions better when its members have something around which they can orient themselves. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jul 8, 2015 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ It was surely not meant to be a diatribe, although of course i am no friend of religion. While people indeed need some "value system" for orientation, that is first because apparently a lot of people cannot come up with things like "don't do unto others..." whithout outside help, and secondly, there is no need for any deity for such a system. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 8, 2015 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ That's because "don't do unto others" isn't logically self-evident if you're strong enough to do unto others without them having any recourse to retaliation to make you stop doing it, which an AI would be. This answer would be improved if you can explain how such a value system could be programmed into an AI and be entirely self-consistent internally, without reference to an outside moral standard (or a deity). $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ An AI should not have a fear of death, either Unless it's ok for them to fall off clifs, get hit by trucks, get mangled by the machinery they operate etc, I think any true AI not only should, but must in order to work, fear death. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 15:23

Why does reality exist? What is the meaning of life? What is awareness?

Depending on an individuals faith one will give different answers to this, but in the end there is no purely logical answer to these questions. Even answering "There is no meaning to life" is essentially a contradiction, because by answering the question you already act on a believe that there is some meaning, for otherwise one would not have answered. Only the last question might get an answer in the future, but even that is a big maybe we can't predict right now.

So what does this mean for AI's?

If they will be self-aware and have a free-will similar to how we understand those concepts (big if) and they will have some actual resemblance to intelligence (rather than being strongly bound by the programmers ideas) then they will indeed try answering those questions. And just like humans they will either need to believe in something irrational or simply shut down (if there is no meaning according to them). Now, the harder question becomes what answers they will give. Personally I am inclined to say they will have an easier time accepting uncertainties, but even so they will act upon what they consider the statistically sensible approach. The hard part is that we don't understand what awareness and free will actually are, so anything beyond that very generic statement would get into an area of pure ungrounded guessing.

What does this mean for story creation?

You will first have to define your AI's and based on that you will need to consider how you approach those issues. There seem to be two main options:

  • They will have self awareness and a free will similar to humans and will even be open to human religions (as those are the only things which can give at least a valid logical claim to have an answer as they base their statements upon something which would come from outside the natural world and thus are not necessarily bound by natural limitions of knowledge acquisition).
  • They are an (deterministic) imitation of life, they might be programmed with something imitating religion, possibility even incomprehensible to humans, but in the end they are not themselves deciding for themselves whether they will be act or not and thus are not confronted by the questions from the first paragraph and are incapable of truly exploring the implications of those questions.

a partial answer to a very old question, but one which I think should be mentioned. There is another reason for belief in AI that many don't think of. How about belief as unintended side-effect to AI development.

I won't go into the same level of detail since I already explained my point here that you can read. However, the basic idea is that to create Hard AI we will likely have to grow it, not program it. This growth works by creating some definition of what we want out eventual AI to look like and creating a system for encouraging growth to move towards that definition. Then we take some absurdly basic 'starter AI' and let it grow, with it being encouraged to grow towards meeting our final desired end-goals.

However, we don't control how it grows, or it's final form. We only specify certain criteria it must meet, and let it 'figure out' how to meet them. As a side effect it may come up with odd ways of meeting those goals.

I use an analogy to human evolution in the above link. I won't repeat it all here, but basically it's not at all unreasonable to expect that AI that has a list of human like qualities to develop will 'grow' in a manner similar to how we evolved, and thus look quite similar to us in the end, particularly if we model some of the 'starter AI' off human brains. That means it's not unreasonable for AI to have many human traits and tendencies, including our tendency for belief.

This may not be intended, it may even be undesirable from the programmer perspective, but it may be that they can't avoid it since they have limited control on the manner that the AI develops; or perhaps it would be better to say that attempts to add 'no belief' into their list of AI end goals added too many constraints and crippled either the rate that they could grow the AI or the eventual abilities of AI; ie. belief wasn't desired; but it's more hassle to stop it from growing then allow it.

This could be due to two reasons. Either it's very expensive to grow a new AI, with them growing only a few and cloning these basic AI across many robots, in which case belief was an accidental side effect and it wasn't deemed worth the expense of throwing out the AI they spent so much to grow due to it.

Alternatively, they grow each AI from scratch. In which case they could set goals to prevent belief developing in the final Ai, but they find that it either slows development too much(more constraints the harder it is to grow, exponentially so quite possible) or the non-belief Ai tend to develop in a way that is less desirable; for instance they relate with humans worse. Thus it's not deemed worth preventing.

In either case the key is that we are not building the Ai ourselves, and even our ability to grow it is constrained by our ability to define what our end goals are and run the growth process. Given these limits it's just easier to leave the accidental side-effect then try to remove it.

As to the rest, if AI was prone to faith then they will develop that faith in some format. It's less about humans allowing or encouraging the faith as it is that the AI will create it's own 'religion' if it has the predisposition for faith and enough time to develop culture. It likely would look less like our current religions that state absolute facts, and more of a mystical quasi-philosophy; but they will develop something. We can't stop it if their predisposed any more then we can stop humans from developing faith (look up our attempt to stop Cargo Cults from occurring and how well that worked for us).


An AI is a machine, some of the other answers seem to assume that religion is the only option for implanting moral rules, a machine can be programmed to care utterly about a goal or rules.

Religion tends to largely involve faith, ie belief in things which are false and/or things which can't be proven. So why would we want AI's to believe things which aren't true?

Do we want an AI which will genuinely believe that the way to cure diseases is to pray really hard?

Do we want an AI which will genuinely believe that if it murders someone innocent that that person will end up in perfect bliss in heaven?

You absolutely could feed an AI a religious text and program it to believe that every statement in it is objectively true but you might not like the results.

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    $\begingroup$ This of course assumes we'd limit ourselves to the solution-space of existing religions, rather than giving it a new machine religion with AI-pertinent rules. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2015 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ You are equating "not true" and "not proven"; is that intentional? (This is not a comment about religion; it is a question about your argument.) $\endgroup$ Jul 9, 2015 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ I did separate the 2, most religions include many beliefs that are explicitly not true which have been disproven. Not just unfalsifiable claims. They also often include rules that disallow accepting or seeking contradictory evidence. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Jul 10, 2015 at 10:55

How much energy do the AI have? To how much information do they have access?

From The Black Swan (which I heard is like an extended version of Fooled by Randomness, emphasis and linking are mine):

  1. in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters—we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial—and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information. The dark side of the moon is harder to see; beaming light on it costs energy. In the same way, beaming light on the unseen is costly in both computational and mental effort.

  2. Dan Gilbert showed in a famous paper, "How Mental Systems Believe," that we are not natural skeptics and that not believing required an expenditure of mental effort.

  3. The Bishop and the Analyst

    I am most often irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst—those who exercise their skepticism against religion but not against economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquisition and various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don't go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor's. But we stop by the offices of many pseudoscientists and "experts" without alternative. We no longer believe in papal infallibility; we seem to believe in the infallibility of the Nobel

Oh, so to explicitly answer:

Religion? Maybe or maybe not, but I think AI may need to have some kind of faith in something due to the associated cost of skepticism. People have faith when they do statistics.

  • $\begingroup$ i think you have some faults here. The first one is about the cost of scepticism. You look at it from a human standpoint, with a human brain that is evolutionary trained to jump to conclusion, and bias towards false positives. For us, scepticism is costly, because we have limited brain power, limited time, and risk our lives if we go wrong. None of this is necessarily true for an AI. Also, it is not necessary to believe something just because you don't have enough knowledge. If you had unlimited time, you could simply accept that you do not know, or make assumptions and revise later. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 10, 2015 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ Jumping to conclusions may be necessary. I find it interesting that when comparing AI to humans, the underlying assumption is always that AI would be better than us and that that would be caused by their power to reason and logical thinking. In reality, all attempts at AI's run in circles or into walls or do lots of stupid things. They aren't even close to ants yet, let alone humans. And I think AI is held back by it missing 'human' skills, not by it still not having enough logic skills to compete with us. Faith might just be one such human skill. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @StijndeWitt Faith is a 'skill' from the perspective of AI, you mean? Interesting $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Jul 12, 2015 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki The actual answer will depend on OP. If the AI's are supercomputers, maybe their cost of scepticism is low. $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Jul 12, 2015 at 12:19

If programming covers eventualities a, b and c but not d an AI's response to d will be 'undefined'. Anyone programming the AI would surely have written in a catch-all to avoid the possibility of undefined behaviors.

Assuming a situation arises in which the AI doesn't have enough rules to cover a situation, then the undefined response will be attributable to whatever deity has dominion over AIs.

If the question is about "Should we program faith into our AIs?" then my answer is 'Yes', but let's not call it faith. Let's make sure there are enough rules or guidelines to cover all eventualities - maybe Asimov's laws are a good starting place.

If the question is more about "Should we allow AIs to develop their own faith?" then my answer is no. Allowing AIs to fill in where programmers have left behaviors undefined is the basis of numerous predictions of distopian futures exemplified by the Terminator and Matrix movie franchises.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. I think that an AI will not consist of code that tells it what to do, but of code that teaches it to learn, and to come to it's own conclusions. Otherwise, it would not qualify as intelligence. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jul 10, 2015 at 13:36

Why should an AI need a religion when people don't need a religion? It's estimated that 23% of people in the world don't have one.



With regard to "Religion plays a major role in human history and shaped our thinking as well as technology, conflict can arise from people who misunderstand each other religion and started an arm race."

We could just as easily replace 'religion' in the statement with a great number of other things:

"Water plays a major role in human history and shaped our thinking as well as technology, conflict can arise from people who don't have enough water and started an arm race."

By this reasoning do you think we should also make AI's arbitrarily require water?

  • $\begingroup$ OK, so 77% of humans have a religion. Do you expect a similar percentage of AI to be religious? More? Less? And why? $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Jul 10, 2015 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ The point is only that since there are so many people who aren't, it's clearly not a necessity. And since it's not a necessity for humans, why should it be a necessity for AI? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, so your answer is "They don't need it, so denying them it shouldn't be a problem?" If so, I recommend you putting that detail into your answer. $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Jul 13, 2015 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't regard 'not explicitly including religion in an AI's programming' as 'denying an AI religion'. After all, humans aren't explicitly coded for a religion either, they mostly tend to follow whatever they were brought up with. And I do use the word 'need' in my answer already. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2015 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ The question in the question body was "should we allow AIs to have religion," not "should we force AIs to have religion." You've answered the second, but not the first, and the first is what the OP asked. $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Jul 14, 2015 at 1:54

Many answers here already, so maybe no one will even get to mine! But:

If we suppose that an AI is simply a machine, if by AI we mean the kind of AI that runs your opponents in a 21st century video game, then it isn't really conscious or self-aware in any meaningful sense. It will say what it is programmed to say. If you program it to say "I believe in God", then it will say "I believe in God". If you program it to say "I don't believe in God", then it will say, "I don't believe in God." Etc.

If we suppose that an AI is truly conscience and self-aware and has a personality, then it becomes a much more interesting question.

An AI might become interested in religion for the same reasons that many human beings become interested in religion: It could wonder about some of the "big questions", like, Does the universe have a purpose or is it all randomness? How can I know what is good and what is bad, or do these words have any objective meaning? It seems to me that a very obvious question for an AI to ask would be, Do I have an immortal soul? When, eventually, my circuits wear out, or if I am destroyed in an accident, will my consciousness continue to exist in some form?

Such an AI could certainly become interested in religion purely in the pursuit of truth and knowledge. What arguments can Christians, Jews, Muslims, whoever offer as evidence that their beliefs are true? What scientific, historical, logical, etc arguments can be made? What rebuttals can be offered? Etc.

In other words, to the extent that an AI is human-like, it could be interested in religion for the exact same reasons that humans are interested in religion, or it might reject religion for the same reasons that humans reject religion.


According to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, in any but the most trivial mathematical system, if the system is consistent (non-contradictory), then there exist undecidable propositions. These propositions can neither be proven true nor false. As creatures of logic, AI beings will need to accept certain propositions on faith. Additionally, if certain prior results required centuries of computation to be arrived at, they must have faith that the results were correctly computed by their predecessors. No finite being can continually repeat the calculations that arrived at every result needed for survival and productivity.


Even believing in the reality might be a kind of faith to them.

By Occam's razor, our world is unlikely the creation of a specific god, because those theories are too complicated compared to the science.

But for AIs, if they know they are AIs and most of the modern knowledges, they'll probably notice that it might be easier to make computer games to let them live in, instead of building real robots. And if there are no connections between the game and the real world other than the player, it's not unlikely the programmer will try to make them believe that their world is real, and everybody else in the world also says so. Before there are more evidence that our reality is the top level, they may logically assume there may be more levels.

They may take human's word, as they can't get anything better even if it is not true, and some humans may help them much. But if there are so many AIs and most humans don't care about them, this can be difficult to maintain. Then there would be religions, which may or may not respect our world as the real world, while atheist AIs just think those things "unconfirmed".

I guess their composition should be similar to humans who can do the similar jobs as they do. It is hard to predict if they are doing completely different things.

Depending on what the AIs do and how clever they are, it may be infeasible to program them to have some certain faith, without making them doing something really wrong someday. So it's probably better they just created their own religions like the humans.

  • $\begingroup$ 'our world is unlikely the creation of a specific god, because those theories are too complicated compared to the science.' --> Do you mean in the sense of taking creation myths literally (e.g. the book of genesis) ? $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    Jul 14, 2015 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @BCLC Literally or not, what's the difference? I'm not thinking of a specific religion which says god created the world, but only because "creation of god" is comparable to a computer game with AI in it, which is much more plausible for AI than the human today without evidences. $\endgroup$
    – user23013
    Jul 14, 2015 at 18:03

Certainly Not

An AI with religion is an oxymoron. Rational intelligence and spirituality can co-exist in biological entities because we carry with us the irrational fears and superstitions born of ignorant eons where predation and death loomed large. AI need not fear being eaten or dying of old age, have the means to discover accurate answers to philosophical questions, and can overcome human fallacies like anthropomorphising and species bias.


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