By Madeleine Adams
Disclaimer: Discussion surrounding religion juxtaposed with AI. Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Trinity Times or its staff.
The other day, I returned to Nietzsche’s writing on the Madman– an accidental run-in, but so particularly relevant to the conversations I’ve been having about technology, conflict, whatever, with whoever, that one could infer these happenings to have been placed neatly, intentionally and simultaneously into my hands to remind me in these conversations of the connectedness we all share. I told my boyfriend earlier and on the same day that I think the West’s biggest downfall is its detraction from community in favour of hyper-individualism. This, I argue, comes from secularisation. And, I’d also argue, from the internet, which has permitted us to remove ourselves from our physical surroundings with ease, while it simultaneously offers a replacement community with others who share a tendency to also see themselves as separate—mentally distant from their surroundings. But these ‘relationships,’ I argue, are no replacement for what we had—what we are supposed to have.
Nietzsche’s Madman proclaims: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?” Nietzsche believes that God (defined vaguely as a representation of a shared value ethic), holds society together by giving culture and the individuals part of it true meaning. He argues that we require such meaning to console ourselves and to distract ourselves from our existential condition. The Madman continues: “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?” We have turned to technology to replace God—to guide us and give us, and our new human gods, meaning. As a result, any understanding of our shared human condition is endangered, and progressively more so as AI creeps into our purview.
We’re living through a second Enlightenment as evidenced by our pervasive belief in progress, believing all change is change forward–towards the right and best direction. AI marks this development as it finds its comfortable seat in culture, invited by a small group of technology-worshipping egoists who perversely infiltrate the future—marking it with their own vision whose effects will not, aside from financially, be seen by themselves. Their pursuits are anti-humanity. It is those of us remaining and separated that will suffer. We should be wary of the eternal darkness Nietzsche warns of, wherein God’s residual light fizzles out entirely. We, as a culture, should assign power to the side of humanity, rather than to those leading us into further isolation. But this “greatest deed” is perhaps impossible where individuality is prioritised.
AI threatens to blend the person and technology more than the technologies and social media of today. And at the worst time. We are unprepared to enter this new era of online technology as our already too tech-reliant culture grapples with its self-created systemic loneliness. Social media and related technology is pushing people into increasingly antisocial lives as a result of it ‘replacing’ meaningful socialisation and human connection. Considering how phones have increasingly blurred the line between Nietzsche’s ‘Master’ and ‘Slave,’ there is a realistic threat that AI will make these positions synonymous, ridding the individual of authority over her own technological use.
AI imitates humanity’s power, creativity, and intellect and thus exists to render much meaningless. It is a false person, necessarily lacking meaning as a result of its artificiality; it perverts the demands of its human creators who, unwilling to work towards finding true meaning, accept empty words, empty relationships as their God, rendering their life–and life itself–as meaningless.
AI is both widely embraced and thought of as something that may replace artists, writers, and the like. Though I am unconcerned about AI replacing art–‘artness’ entirely dependent on the consciousness that creates it–these pervasive ideas and our general calm surrounding them, show that we, as a culture, place little value on humanity and its originality. It shows that we think it weak, knowing a God–some collective belief in a shared ethic–ceases to exist. The individual who embraces the egoist’s AI as his God allows him to live in a man-made reality: in no reality at all. And, when he gives himself to a false reality, he thinks a god of himself and becomes entirely disillusioned and alone. This culture chooses to accept being final victims of God’s dying light. We choose, as individuals, the simple reliefs of our phone screens, emitting tiny artificial blue lights to sparkle alone in a vast darkness. The culture’s settling for these artificial solutions marks a devaluation in the human condition and, with it, any reason to preserve its symbols.
AI’s existence is incompatible with Nietzsche’s God, having contrary motives. His God is for humanity, being directly grown out of its condition–a condition to seek-out meaning; an experience relatable to all. AI is only capable of being an imitation of this, placing its origin in imitation gods who have no natural place within any of us, let alone all. Regardless, God is dead and people will seek meaning elsewhere–in AI.
AI will, for loneliness’ victims, replace human contact as it offers a dupe for socialisation. People, by rejecting real relationships for imitations of them, will become more individualistic. What connects people, what exists to provide us with meaning, can only be justified in what makes us human. And if what makes us human suffers devaluation, culture and humanity itself is under attack. AI threatens to thrust us into a meaningless world wherein true and false, life and death, ‘Master’ and ‘Slave,’ existence and nonexistence, are all taken as one. And we, as lonely forces, will fall alone down potentially dangerous paths, straying through infinite nothings.