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Intolerance, crusades, national differences, terrorism and interpersonal disagreements – all those to some extent resulted from conflicting religious views.
What about the lack of a religious belief? A major emergent trend of the last century came not from religious teachings but from the Scientific Enlightenment and hard data.
As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world's largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth," a Pew report says. "Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population."
Scientific progress, and Internet and mobile coverage proliferation in the last 8 years alone might have decreased the numbers dramatically. Still not as much as to liquidate the spiritual beliefs of the vast majority of the world's population.
So, the fact is this: technological progress as it is will take time and generations of change to convert the world's population from monotheistic religions to transhumanism.
Why has religion settled so deeply in the minds of our compatriots? What has enabled us to elevate the individuality of the human soul and proclaim our dominance on Planet Earth?
The simple answer is - consciousness. Religious postulates state that while other creatures might have urges and emotions, only humans have this magic spark of "God's breath." The existence of consciousness is exactly what has given grounds to the ephemeral concept of the human soul as well as validated our right to shape the Planet to our liking.
One can argue against our exclusivity for consciousness, but the truth is we still cannot evaluate the presence of such in other sentient creatures.
What about machines? Can a machine think, feel or exhibit consciousness?
Turing, who is considered a Father of Artificial Intelligence, believed this question to be too meaningless to even deserve discussion.
We have been excited with the Turing Test since its inception, and the iconic status of "Blade Runner," "Her" and "Ex-Machina" clearly suggest humanity's fascination with the idea of machines exhibiting human-level intelligence. The Turing Test, however, never intended to prove machines are as smart as human beings. It was designed to showcase how well a machine can disguise as a human in a narrow conversation. While definitely an ambitious undertaking, “the imitation game” has nothing in common with our hope to create a new intelligent species.
Creation of an “artificial soul” and true reasoning will not be an attempt to pass the Turing Test. It will aim to pass the test for God.
Our ability to create a soul in silico will be a litmus test for thousands of years of religious preachings, beliefs of millions of people and the strength of the biggest human institution - the Church. It would be an ultimate and non-disputable triumph of Scientific Revolution. Equally, belief in the higher spirit will be strengthened if AGI turns out to be a programmer's fantasy.
Quest for consciousness
Monotheistic religions claim there is some God-bestowed sacred element in us. All this talk about spirituality, 21 grams, and an eternal life where our souls gather after departing the physical boundaries of our mortal body – these are all beautiful myths of religious folklore.
What is consciousness then? What is this element that enabled us to become the Masters of the Planet?
What is this cornerstone of life that DARPA, Google and IBM are trying to explain, uncover and replicate?
Looked at from a neuroscientific point of view our consciousness is nothing more than the complex pattern of neurons firing inside our brains, while our identity and memory is a direct consequence of the strengths of our neurons' links.
Taking this approach, our soul appears to be made of a combination of electric signals and the number of connections inside our brains.
If this is the case and consciousness is a matter-embedded phenomenon, knowledge engineers should have no problems reverse engineering the brain, especially accounting for the advances in computing power and the speed of transistors.
The nervous system of the C. elegans worm was completely mapped in 1986. Scientists in Edinburgh university have just recreated an elaborate map of more than a billion brain cell connections called synaptome. Maybe it will take only a decade to precisely map the human brain!
The parallel processing nature of our brain has been developed by millions of years of evolution, and a computer’s ability to use the same wire thousands of times per second might very well be enough to approach human “thinking mechanism.”
Or will it not? Will the hard wiring be enough to recreate a sacred human spirit?
Will the sheer power of computing and the size of a simulated brain be sufficient to jump-start a hitherto now mysterious processes of love, hope, ambition, belonging, creativity, fear, lust and curiosity?
It will be, according to numerous machine learning experts, knowledge engineers and sci-fi authors.
The question is: will AGI have consciousness? Will it live by the same principles and desires we do? Will it have to do so to be intelligent?
Whatever the answers, if we ourselves can create an artificial soul in silicon matter, the concept of a divine spark in our souls will give way to evolutionary Darwinism once and for all.
It will be exactly the answer to the consciousness quest that will end the centuries-old debate on the existence of God.
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