God Technology: The Conspiracy You Don’t Even Realize You Believe

Do we worship technology?

Everything I really know about conspiracy theory I learned from Victor¹. We were not only friends, but business partners. Over a period of months, work took us almost daily from Los Angeles to Orange County and back. You can imagine the traffic.

Victor was like me in many ways but one. He believed in conspiracy. Not just one theory or another, but most of them. Being both curious and competitive, I went toe-to-toe with him on each detail of every theory. Remember there was no shortage of time.

Consider Loose Change which presents evidence contradicting the documented history of September 11, 2001. The film has a consistent thesis (9/11 is a hoax) but no explanation of how the ruse was played. Loose Change’s “theory” is broad and shallow. Every story point in 9/11 is bombarded with quotes and documents that make that lone detail seem impossible.

To Victor, it didn’t matter if I refuted the film’s examples with evidence of my own. As the conspiracy had no limits, everything I knew about 9/11 could be part of it, a ruse planted by the conspirators. Victor would say, over and over again, “How do you know?”.

Victor’s point was irrefutable²: I had no first-hand evidence of the mainstream 9/11 narrative. He and I both read words online, who was to say it was his and not mine that were suspicious?

Conspiracy is like solipsism, the ancient Greek belief that all reality is an illusion. The contemporary analogue is the Matrix possibility: that I am a brain in a vat, no one I know actually exists.

Today philosophy doesn’t much consider solipsism. There is no evidence, not even of the introspective sort, to discuss.

Conspiracies suffer from a similar weakness. Due to inconsistency of evidence, no single theory can be put on solid footing. The loose change doesn’t add up, the coins aren’t even in the same currency. Like astrology, the opinions are many but there is no process to reconcile differences and find a common model.³ Like solipsism, conspiracy theory cannot be rejected.

While rationally acceptable,⁴ there is no evidence to propel people to believe conspiracies. Ten percent of Americans fully believe in “chemtrails”, even though these condensation trails can easily be shown to be made of that rather benign chemical H₂0. In a recent poll of techies, 37% said we live in a computer simulation. Why do we continue to believe such things without any evidence?

My theory is that these misbeliefs stem from our ancient desire to be controlled. Notably Victor grew up in a strictly religious home, quite different from our wild secular life in Los Angeles. Was conspiracy Victor’s outlet to experience the controlling God of his childhood?

The JFK/Illuminati style conspiracies all posit a great controlling force in the universe, as does the now-popular Matrix/solipsism belief. Political ideologies, from Marxism to Libertarianism, are propelled by narratives of control. We so powerfully want to escape from freedom. If we cannot throw ourselves before our gods, our makers, to what shall we abandon ourselves?

A pernicious and popular belief hides amongst these theories. Over seventy percent of Americans believe robots will take their jobs. The phraseology is that artificial intelligence will “replace” us. To make matters worse, thought leaders espouse visions of superintelligence, which are of course sauced up for headlines: “Stephen Hawking Sets Out to Control Artificial Intelligence — Before It Controls Us”.

In the tech circles in which I run, superhuman AI is considered inevitable. Machines will go on to become that which controls the world and determines the fate of the universe.

Recognize that the AI takeover is exactly that: a myth, not true. The future is in fact unknown. Nothing is inevitable. Superhuman robots of course may never appear, like every other future possibility.

AI overlords do not even seem likely. While digital transistor counts and storage density have grown exponentially, progress in doing human-like things has barely been linear. Consider the progress in dictation software since 1999: certainly impressive, but more than that of 1979–1999, when the technology grew from nothing to a low-cost commercial product? Probably not. Certainly not an increased rate of growth.⁵ How much have humans advanced in the same time frame?

motivated reasoning

This religious explanation is my best guess as to why so many well-educated scientist types believe in these AI overlords. They need a faith system, something to submit to, and their atheism leaves them few options but to worship God Technology.

Sure, they provide rational arguments for the coming of their messiah. But in conversation, their supposedly rational nature does not lead them to give alternate possibilities their due weight. Even the most logical types (myself included) practice motivated reasoning: logic in the service of emotion. Technologists want to be makers of gods.

God Technology gives a meaning to the universe: the development of intelligence. We are but a transition point, from biological intelligence to that of silicon. While insanely popular amongst tech types, this myth to a lesser extent pervades all culture. That’s why we see superhuman technology portrayed so frequently on the silver screen.

To believe in God Technology is to accept the fundamental axiom — that the world can be controlled at all — that separates Victor and I. I have trouble seeing any form of absolute control. Do humans control the planet now? Which humans, exactly? Even a Jeff Bezos cannot stop the war in Syria. Will AI really be able to control things — all things?

Despite the vast number of overlords in fables and comic books, there are no real life examples. Caesar was taken down by a knife.

Machines need not be intelligent to be feared. From computer viruses to landmines, small scraps of intelligence can wreak havoc when placed just so in an environment. Like rats, insects, and cancerous DNA sequences, entities do not need to be smarter than us to destroy us.

[1] Names changed to protect the innocent, of course

[2] Though also a red herring. Victor was not responding to my request for proof of what he believed, he instead turned the tables.

[3] We can argue forever about if someone is in the Illuminati, precisely because there is no evidence to settle the debate. And thus conspiracy theory cannot advance, the way other forms of thought do. This for me makes conspiracy, if nothing else, boring. Perhaps this is the reason why I do not indulge. Curiously my own reasons to reject conspiracy have shifted over the years. Back when I knew Victor, I leaned on Occam’s Razor: given the great variety of possible explanations, the simplest one must be true. The probability of the conspiratorial explanation was so much smaller, it was not worth believing in. Today my feelings are the same, but the reasoning is more along the lines of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve spent enough time in government labs to know how advanced their systems are in actuality.

[4] If we mean “rationally acceptable” in a mainstream, non-scientific sense. Scientist types are not inclined to reason about things that are not falsifiable.

[5] I use exponential in the classical sense (increasing rate of change) as opposed to the new colloquial sense “very fast.”

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Steven Schkolne

South African/American Caltech CS PhD, turned international artist, turned questioner of everything we assume to be true about technology. Also 7 feet tall.