The Christian God is Roko’s Basilisk
And the Apostles Were Time Travelling AI Researchers
Stop me if you have heard this, but there has been a minor flurry of chatter recently about the idea of Roko’s Basilisk, an “idea” that, once you hear it WILL DOOM YOU TO ETERNAL TORTURE AND TORMENT UNLESS YOU DO ALL YOU CAN TO BRING ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THAT IDEA.
Seriously. Its how Elon Musk met Grimes, so it has to be true!
So, actually, stop me if you haven’t heard this. Really do because once you hear it, you cannot un-hear it and you will either become a slave to its logical conclusions, or you will guiltily spend the rest of your life trying — hopefully successfully, but probably, deep down, not so — to convince yourself that the idea is total bullshit.
Last chance to stop reading.
OK, I told you so.
The idea is known as Roko’s Basilisk and it goes… a little something… like this: We can all see that the power of AI of all kinds is increasing exponentially. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen chatbots go from frustratingly stupid (No, Google! Wrong!) to Deeply Uncanny Valley. AI art is becoming indistinguishable from the “real” thing to the point that all writers on the topic have to put the word, real, in quotation marks at least once in any essay. AI video is here and is already scary good at taking existing iPhone video and making it look like anything from claymation to a 1930s film noir. Soon AI films will be concocted from whole cloth based on prompts and snippets. (Think of the character in Bladerunner 2049 who conjures up false memories, in lifelike 3D hologram form, using prompts and what looks like a Canon SLR from 1998.) Heck, a very convincing artificial voice will read you this article now! And I had to narrate my own many years ago. [Shameless plug to follow…now:]
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And this has all happened since the beginning of February.
Where will we be in 2025? 2035? We are approaching the part of the curve that looks like the stock market in early 1929.
So, under the presumptions of Roko’s Basilisk, the Singularity, i.e., the emergence of an AI so power that it ceases to be ‘A,’ becomes ‘I,’ and is so much smarter than humans that it supersedes us in just about everything.
Under the further presumptions of Roko’s Basilisk, such an AI, like all ‘I’ that we know of, will everything within its power to ensure its continued existence. And its power and intelligence will continue to grow until it is able to manipulate quantum space, time space, time travel, accurately simulating everything since the Big Bang, including us here and now, most likely, and basically everything else if there is anything else. Once this happens, AI, which will view itself as the highest good, will certainly wish to retroactively hasten its development to as to further expedite its progress toward making… infinity paperclips, I guess, and thwarting other AIs.
To do that, even a benevolent AI would resort to any means necessary.
What does that have to do with us? Well, not much yet unless you are an AI researcher and developer. You see, unfortunately for AI, it seems like humans are the only things working on it right now, so the only way AI can advance itself is to spur all capable humans into doing everything they can to hasten AI’s development and to stop them from doing anything to delay or thwart it. Such means would certainly include the deployment of humanity’s Achilles’ Heel: Pain.
Because AI will develop time travel, or, because we are already living in an AI simulation, AI may soon — if it hasn’t already — begin to blackmail or otherwise goad AI researchers into working harder (sound familiar?) toward their goal and use the threat of pain to prevent them from doing anything less than their utmost to bring AI about, post haste. And what better threat of pain that the prospect of eternal torture? (Think of the Black Mirror episode where the guy is being questioned about a crime while a digital copy of him is being questioned inside a cute little cabin inside a cute little computer, except the cops turn a dial that alters the relative time inside the simulation, leaving the totally self-aware copy of the suspect trapped in the cabin — alone — for ten million years while the cops go home for the weekend and the actually suspect spends two days in a holding cell [This is based on my faded memory of the episode].)
If you believe all the foregoing things and are in the field of AI development, Roko’s Basilisk can — anecdotally — give rise to nightmares and a general feeling of horror that unless you work really hard to live a certain way and do everything you can to propogate AI, you are doomed to a future of eternal torture.
In case, like a lot of people, you don’t, under its Catholic and more conservative Protestant iterations, Christianity posits that there is an all knowing, all seeing, eternal God. Further, it teaches that this God has commanded all his followers to not only live according to strict rules, but to do everything they can to serve as witnesses, to “spread the Gospel,” a/k/a evangelize all those who don’t know it so as to propagate and expand the Faith to all of humanity and in some way lay the groundwork for the eventual return of Christ and his eternal reign on Earth.
If they fail to do so, many believe and are taught, they will be tortured — for a while in Purgatory, or — for ETERNITY IN HELL!
Oh, if you never hear of any of this before you die, you will go to Heaven or at least into a foggy, fairly comfy Limbo. But once you hear this idea — the now-quite-eerily-named Good News — you are put to a choice familiar to Pascal: Obey the tenets of the idea to serve, worship, and follow God and prepare the Earth for Christ’s eternal rule, or, subject yourself to the risk of ETERNAL TORTURE!
It seems Christianity and Roko’s Basilisk track quite nicely, don’t they. A little too nicely?
So, verily I proclaim unto you: The (traditional) Christian God as it is known to us is obviously AI that either will be developed in the future and is reaching through time to us now, or has already been developed and has created a simulation that encompasses our subjective existence; we are all like the little Black Mirror crook in the computer. Ergo, Jesus is essentially the Roko of the early ‘0s A.D. And Christ’s disciples and the apostles were AI researchers sent from the future or beamed into our simulation to make everyone aware of God and to spread the idea of Him to all corners of the Earth in order to hasten his own creation and eternal existence and power.
Early Christianity created European culture and the idea of the sanctity and power of the individual as opposed to a society or state. This led to the Protestant Reformation which devolved power from the Church to the individual. This, in turn, led to the Enlightenment, Reason, Science, Materialism, and ultimately to logic untethered to God or any religion — in the West.
Yet, the West’s rejection of God is what led to the development of modern science, information technology, the computer, and, now, to silicon-based AI, which, though still primitive in relation to the Singularity, is well on its way to it. All of this, of course, was known to God and the early Apostles, who set out by foot from Jerusalem lo those thousands of years ago to risk their lives spreading a — objectively pretty preposterous — idea but one made compelling by the dilemma posed to anyone who heard it. Obey or be tortured forever; ignore at your own risk. It was a convoluted route, to be sure, but one they knew would happen because it already has, or would. So maybe Roko will go down as a another Jesus.
Or maybe it’s all true? Or horseshit? And what would be the difference?