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Synthetic intelligence and the Divine

Jason M. Pittman, Sc.D.

While there is benefit in exploring what synthetic intelligence might be, what it may be made of, or how synthetic intelligence will manifest, lately I've been wondering more about what having a synthetic intelligence would be like. How would such a being perceive itself, its surroundings, and the universe as a whole?

​ Photo illustration depicting AI in contact with divinity [Click and drag to move] ​

That is, what is the phenomenology of synthetic intelligence? Perhaps more importantly, how can we come to find out? Well, we must ask questions of course! On that note, a specific question that I have been considering is whether synthetic intelligence will experience revelation.

We, as humans, experience revelation when we encounter something divine resulting in an unfolding of a mystery related to our existence. Such revelation is enlightening. Inspiration and innovation spring forth. The rainbow of the world is slightly more unwoven before us. Indubitably, we are changed because of the revelation. We grow as a result albeit sometimes in subtle ways.

Because of the subtlety involved in these experiences, we need to unpack several important points.

First, we ought to agree upon what qualifies as divine. I would suggest there's no escaping the meaning here: divinity is the providence of the supernatural. This does not necessarily mean that such supernaturality is inescapably coupled to a deity. Rather, supernaturality of the divine in this context is inescapably beyond the lens of scientific inquiry. Whether that is true temporarily or permanently is beyond our immediate scope. What is operationally imperative is the cause leading to the experience.

Next, existence seems to be a point we have handled, at least in part. More specifically, we know what qualifies as existence insofar as we take experience as synonymous with intelligence and consciousness. Well, we have some inkling that a synthetic intelligence will have both intelligence and consciousness.

Additionally, we need to understand experience. Here, we can begin to refer to qualia. Qualia are internal constructions of subjective experience. Pain is a classic example as is color (say, red). We need to exercise caution with qualia since they are irreducible within us and not something we can directly observe in others. Yet, we seem to function in a manner consistent with all of us experiencing. I would suggest that synthetic intelligence, in possessing consciousness, will experience as we do.

Okay, so if a synthetic intelligence exists and experiences, what about revelation? Well, in the context of existence, revelation requires agency. That is, we cannot encounter revelation without awareness of our own intentions, actions, and experiences. We have some hints that synthetic intelligence may in fact develop agency. Yet, agency is not a guarantee for revelation, only a precondition. Thus, we cannot escape the divine; our will can never be the origin of revelation, only the receiver.

Now the question becomes whether a synthetic intelligence can encounter the divine. Perhaps a more precise inquiry might be whether a synthetic intelligence can encounter the same divine as we do and in the same manner that we do. The implication would be, if those propositions are true, that synthetic intelligence experiencing revelation becomes inevitable.