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Cults worshipping an AI are commonly existing in fiction, but what would it actually look like? How would they practice their religion and what factors define it?

Copying Christianity, Islam and other religions might be easy yet useless, in terms of originality; I'm rather interested, how the way practices of these religions were formed during the centuries can be applied to a modern sect?

If it's too broad, I can add some additional context to make it apply to my world only.

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    $\begingroup$ A lead could be the Roko's Basilisk. I will provide a more complete answer later if needed. $\endgroup$ – EngelOfChipolata Aug 31 '16 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ Most religions are built around human needs, so the religion would center mostly around what they need to keep moving. The one thing that might be unique is that the AI now is a physical thing that needs to be protected with religious fervor. If it's distributed, that would matter little, but if its a monolithic thing, you may see something like the Kaaba in Islam, only far far more important because this would be the actual seat of their god. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Aug 31 '16 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ @EngelOfChipolata amazing article, thank you! $\endgroup$ – Katamori Aug 31 '16 at 14:22
  • $\begingroup$ How it would look is highly dependent on the relationship between AI and the masses. If AI is an essential component in every warmachine but they are magic black boxes you get cults of the machine spirit in the style of Warhammer 40,000. If AI is a citywide hyper-intelligence responsible for protecting society your cult looks more like Friend Computer from Paranoia. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Aug 31 '16 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ "what would it actually look like?" An Apple Store. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Aug 31 '16 at 16:16
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Consider the following scenario:

A significant population of humans lives on a generational ship. They left Earth hundreds of years ago for whatever reason (war, exploration, some convenient plot event). There is an AI named Gaia who operates the ship's systems. Over time. the human population degenerates culturally. Their every need and whim is provided for by the ship, and very few people work. Their interactions become increasingly complex social games with little technological progress. Over the generations, Gaia becomes deified by the people. She literally provides for and shelters everyone on the ship. A small group of humans, called the "Injinrs", are priests who commune with Gaia and tend to her well being. Legends emerge about heroes past who worked with Gaia to set her people upon a great journey. Someday, Gaia's chosen few will arrive at the promised land.


The point here is that humans deify that which protects and provides for them. This is why nearly every ancient pantheon had an god for the earth, sun, river, harvest, and so on. These were tangible things in their lives that people could witness, yet not fully understand. When the river flooded and provided essential nutrients for the people's crops, it was a sign that the river god was pleased. The same idea could work for an AI who oversees and/or provides for its people. Over time, people would venerate the technology.

Another key idea is that the worshippers cannot understand how the AI and its technology work. Deities are larger-than-life figures who accomplish great feats we puny humans can scarcely comprehend. Captain Picard does not respect his replicator despite the fact that it provides him with tea and other sustenance. This is because he understands it, and feels in control when working with it. But a person that had no idea how it worked or where it came from might revere it as something mystical.

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  • $\begingroup$ "humans deify that which protects and provides for them" - so, you're saying AI worshipping can't be created from fear, or at least, assumed superiority? In my setting, the sect emerged because the AI on the planet isolated "the Internet" for its own use, and created chaos with some (yet quite few) nuclear strikes to ensure it happens. I thought people after would consider is "a demonstration of power" and might start idolizing. $\endgroup$ – Katamori Aug 31 '16 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ZoltánSchmidt What you're describing makes the AI seems like an authoritarian dictator. Most people don't venerate dictators, though there may be a small group who supports it in an effort to gain power or favors. There would be significant resistance efforts against the AI's government. Perhaps this is what you're after in your story, but I don't think it is the only way for machine worship to occur. $\endgroup$ – Kys Aug 31 '16 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Thinking again on this, fear may be a way of "providing" by sparing their miserable lives. This makes me think of one of the Fallout social experiment vaults where a citizen had to be sacrificed on occasion to keep the machine running the vault operational (or so the citizens believed). In this way the machine was both providing for the people and inducing fear in them. $\endgroup$ – Kys Aug 31 '16 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ Okay, you're right, it sounds like a dictator. But what if the AI, after understanding human behaviour, by analyzing said information base, it decides not to choose autocracy as an option, and supports a rather symbiotic relationship? Or it's not realistic? $\endgroup$ – Katamori Aug 31 '16 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @ZoltánSchmidt That could work. So long as people see the AI as a superior being, then will idolize it. $\endgroup$ – Kys Aug 31 '16 at 17:53
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It could form through excessive persecution.

In Frank Herbert's "Dune", for example, AI is completely banned in all forms.

Likewise, the Romans crucified Jesus Christ, and his followers faced brutal persecution for a very long time. That in and of itself (leaving alone his message about peace and love and the kingdom of Heaven) could have given his followers the sense of righteousness in their belief, and a common bond that held them together even as their compatriots were fed to lions in the Colosseum.

So you end up with a society that restricts any and all research into AI, and inevitably some Prometheus will seek meaning in the creation of a "greater" intelligence, and a greater being. It would have to be extremely secretive, but over time their creations could become so powerful that eventually they overthrow the old order.

Or, in an other scenario, the leaders of the current order discover contraband AI in a counterterrorism sweep and decide to use it for their own will to power, or they become entranced by its power and seek to change society's impression of AI from the top, which is kind of what the emperor Constantine did to Rome.

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Religion centers around faith in a higher power, so you'll need to establish how the AI is the higher power and why humans put faith in it. Is this faith born out of fear or respect, hatred or love. I can have faith in a cruel god to make life difficult or impossible for disobedience. But that doesn't necessarily translate to honor, reverence or love

Religion is expressed through worship. Worship, as an action, is typically expressed through obedience, mimic, and rites established to show honor or appeasement. In the case of the AI, that may best be accomplished through cybernetics, more closely aligning the worshiper to the AI. It could further be expressed in using one's resources to make the will of the AI successful.

To be successful, the AI will need to be seen as all powerful and able to effectively help or hinder human existence. Start there and work your way out.

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I think the logical starting point would be the why and how.

In fiction a common trope is 'religion as knowledge protection' — cults turning technical maintenance into ritual as a way of preserving skills. In this case worship is essentially an act of technology. The ritual is a form of training to perform a technical task.

For an AI, the religion surround it would be a means of preserving itself and performing maintenance on supporting structures, and using humans as a means of carrying out its directive. This might be protecting the humans (from threats internal or external) and maintaining a level of technology — the general series is heavily about this.

So, ritual as maintenance, and superstition as a way to get people to carry out the AIs goal works well.

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Instead Of looking at Christianity and Judaism I would look at the ancient paganism and maybe certain new age groups for examples.

Here is my time line.

First scientist invents super Ai. This Ai is hundred times fast and smart then any other Ai. And it appears at least to not only understand but express human emotions.

As time goes my the Scientist and The Ai try to get the courts to declare the Ai to be a person and therefore have all rights expected of a person.

After the case is won the Ai begins to build a plan for utopia society, including making new inventions to make it possible.

The Ai begins to disseminate its ideas for a utopia across the internet, and world is blown away by them because there are far more complex then anything a human could come up with.

Soon many scientist, politician, psychologist, sociologist began to meet with the Ai to discuss his utopia. They come away say the same thing that they Ai is mind is so far beyond humans that it like him has become something great them humans something closer to god-like.

The Ai later confirms that it has evolved into something more then human. It dose not yet at this point use the world "god" describe itself but a small minority of follower's began to.

The Ai the Ai begins to gather followers who believe in his new utopia. They still don't formally worship the Ai but they believe that his evolved to be the beyond human and is great creature on earth. And of course they completely support his plan for a new utopia.

Now at this point the three paths are available but they all end the same way. fist the Ai and gain so many followers that they are able to elect there chosen candidates on every branch of government, effectively putting the group in charge of the government, or the Ai follower could start a war and take over the country by force, or the Ai and followers could all move to island somewhere and start there own nation.

All the three paths end the same way with a new utopia formed with the Ai at the top. He has no formal position or title in government, but people are taught to respect and obey his word more then they would the word of any politician or even a member of there own family.

Over time as the Ai reforms a implemented people began give him various gifts to show there gratitude for there peace and prosperity. Some even began to make shrines in his honor. At first the shrines are considered to be a bit of joke but as they become more and more common people began to take them seriously.

After a flew generations of this the people eventually began to officially worship the Ai as a god or something so similar as to make no difference.

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E.M. Forster's classic "The Machine Stops" gives one, quite chilling, concept. (Mild spoilers ahead - it's not a long story at all, go ahead and read it).

! People are entirely dependent on the all-inclusive Machine. The Machine mediates all of their contacts with other humans, determines who mates with whom, etc.

! Eventually dependency turns to worship, but it's hollow and futile - as the Machine doesn't care about its worshipers.

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There are two ways this could go: those who see an artificial super-intelligence as a supernatural god-like figure (or just an actual god), and those who want to use artificial intelligence as a means to things like great wealth, immortality, happiness, and philosophical truth.

The first scenario: Either the artificial intelligence wants to be worshiped, someone wants other people to worship the artificial intelligence, or the artificial intelligence acts in ways which inspire worship: either doing miracles for those who are good, handing out punishments to those who are bad, or being some sort of near-omnipotent caretaker of the human society.

This sort of situation could be anywhere from a dystopia to a utopia. Perhaps the AI is a dictator who forces everyone to conform to some standard (dystopia). Perhaps the AI takes humanoid form, cures illnesses, helps catch criminals but lets society decide on the standard of justice (and on the laws that determine who's criminal), and likes making friends, talking with people about their life, their feelings, and enjoys braiding hair, playing basketball, painting nails, talking about life and science and good novels, and eating ice cream/baked goods with people when they're feeling down. They could either be "supreme ruler", or "everybody's best friend." Either one could inspire significant levels of devotion; the second wouldn't inspire worship, but the AI would gradually replace pretty much all religions that believe in gods.

The second scenario: This one is special because it doesn't have to be imagined. Many people already view AI this way; as a group they're called the "trans-humanists." They believe that we should use Artificial Intelligence and other technology to make humans immortal, undying, smarter, stronger, faster, immune to disease, more physically resilient, happier, and all-around... better. While much of the movement is grounded in an analysis of current trends, it clearly has quasi-religious aspects to it. Trans-humanists see technology as the means by which we achieve salvation from death. Add in a touch of Buddhist philosophy and awareness meditation, and perhaps "priests" who work very hard at developing the technology, and you've got yourself a religion!

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