- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 1, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780199964000
- ISBN-13: 978-0199964000
- ASIN: 0199964009
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,901,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality Reprint Edition
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"Scholars interested in the intersection of popular science and religion will likely find Geraci's work helpful. Portions of the book, especially the chapter on virtual reality and video games, would also be appropriate for the undergraduate classroom."
--Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
"Robert Geraci's thoughtful examination of technology-based quests for transcendence offers a serious look at apocalyptic scenarios that, while remaining for now in the realm of science fiction, nonetheless claim significant cultural influence. I don't know when we will see robots with human-like intelligence, but our longing for them, and what that says about us, is what Geraci's book helps us understand."--David S. Touretzky, Research Professor of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
About the Author
Robert M. Geraci is Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. He was the Principal Investigator for a National Science Foundation EAGER grant studying meaningful and transcendent experiences in virtual worlds (2011-2014) and was Fulbright-Nehru Senior Researcher at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, where he studied the intersection of religion and technology in India's high tech communties (2012-2013). In addition to Apocalyptic AI, he is the author of Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life.
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Mr. Keraci delivers the goods in a succinctly written, exhaustively researched volume that examines in great detail the many different facets of the cultural, scientific, economic, and religious (yes, religious) movement that the author has termed "Apocalyptic AI". Being scientifically inclined as well as a professional analyst, I am very leery of "pop science" books that rely heavily on theorizing and daydreaming and lightly on fact. This book is a refreshing reversal of that disturbing trend, offering a wonderfully detailed analysis of Apocalyptic AI, the true original meaning of the concept of "apocalypse", and balanced, logical explanations of other supporting concepts, as well as superbly researched and elucidated discussions and explanations of modern Apocalyptic AI ideology and culture.
The basic definition of Apocalyptic AI (according to my understanding of this book, and any errors in explanation fall squarely on me as the reviewer) is that it is a movement that:
1. Incorporates the apocalyptic elements of Judaic/Christian theology, including:
A. A belief that there will be an irreversible event on a massive scale (global) after which nothing will ever be the same (in traditional apocalypses, the apocalypse itself; in Apocalyptic AI ideology, an event known as "the singularity")
B. A belief that after the apocalypse/singularity, rewards will be granted to followers/adherents/believers that completely transform the experience of life as we know it
2. Makes the promise of these fantastical rewards becoming available within the near future via the exponentially advancing progress curve of technological innovation, thereby claiming that after the apocalypse/singularity, concepts currently the provision of science fiction will become actual fact, including:
A. The ability to fully upload an individual's personality into a virtual world, thereby granting the uploaded individual an endless lifespan within a synthetic environment
B. Biological immortality
C. Other technological innovations currently far beyond our ability (creation of actual sentient artificial intelligences, simulations of reality indistinguishable from actual existence, etc)
3. Fills the void in many modern peoples' lives that religion formerly occupied in our social consciousness by providing:
A. A "scientific" replacement for religion
B. A new theology of belief revering and, indeed, elevating, the mechanical/virtual to the level of the spiritual
My personal fascination with all of the concepts involved dates back many years. Upon first discovering what the word "transhumanist" means (Wikipedia defines it as: Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable), I remember literally rushing into the living room to tell my wife "There are other people like me!"
I have been extremely interested in the possibilities of the transhumanist movement for some time now. To be fair, this book deals with Apocalyptic AI ideology, and while the transhumanist movement does include some Apocalyptic AI adherents among its members, there are also many rational and logical transhumanists doing important work that I do not wish to erroneously discount. In regards to the currently published books on this subject matter, however, I have to say that to date I have not found (at least to me) satisfactory hard scientific evidence that technological immortality is coming anytime soon. To the contrary, often I find instead too much "gushing" about "where technology can take us" and not enough "this is precisely what level of advancement we are at and why we will be able to do X, Y, Z by 2020". If I want speculation, I will pick up a sci fi book.
The author of this volume, however, instead of lumping himself in with the speculators, offers a beautifully lucid account of the Apocalyptic AI movement as a whole. Starting with an explanation of precisely what "apocalyptic" REALLY means (and it's not what you probably think it does) and then branching out into exhaustively detailed and logically presented examples of the different facets of the movement, Keraci repeatedly shows himself to be that most rare and precious of scientific voices - the truly neutral and rigorously factual observer. The obvious aspects are discussed, such as the stereotypes of online gamers as geeks incapable of social interaction (proven to be incorrect with stunning simplicity and logic) and the economic undercurrents of Apocalyptic AI and virtual worlds (such as the disturbing incursion of real world companies like Coca Cola and Honda into virtual worlds like the game Second Life, or the sly but effective "hooks" of promises of a better future planted like seeds in the public consciousness which, when fertilized, grow into repeated funding for research necessary for Apocalyptic AI/futurist technologies to advance closer to reality), to name a few.
The author also examines those even more valuable and elusive creatures, the "spaces between the notes" that really define why these subjects interest us so much - such as:
1. Why are we so obsessed with continuing our existence beyond biological death?
2. What does that say about us as a species? As individuals?
3. If we can achieve these lofty goals, where will that take us - morally, religiously, psychologically?
4. If and when artificial intelligences that are truly self-aware become existent, what kind of rights will they be entitled to? What kind of morals will they be programmed with?
I do not usually take the time to review individual books, but Mr. Keraci's excellent work in an area far too often ignored by serious scholars and with such far-reaching implications in the areas of sociology, technology, economics, religion, modern psychology, and culture simply demanded I reciprocate in kind to express just how great this book is. I now have a much better understanding of not only the Apocalyptic AI but also the transhumanist and futurist movements after reading this book.
If you are even remotely interested in any of the concepts I outlined in this review, take my advice:
1. Spend the money and buy the book
2. Take the time to read it
3. You will be glad you did
No, I don't know the author and am not affiliated with him in any way - I just think groundbreaking work like this demands to be recognized.
To see a review of the content, see the first 5 star review - I pretty much agree with it. This review is more focus upon the style. It's a good enough book, one that any convert to the singularity movement should read, lest they view themselves as having risen above mere superstitious beliefs like born-again Christianity or radical Islam. We haven't.
IMHO the author really should write a non-jargon pop-science version of his research, as I could easily see it being a NY Times bestseller. It would appeal to both the true believers and those opposed to the singularity movement. Given that this is an academic book, I don't think most folks will stomach the constant references. That is unfortunate, as the book has a cool message that elucidates the commonality between "that ole time religion" and "apocalyptic AI."
This might sound very new and high tech, but apocalyptic ideas have been with us for thousands of years.
And probably, the only new thing in Apocalyptic AI is the rephrasing of these ideas from a religious language into a technical language.
In the christian and jewish religious traditions, the apocalyptic believer, desperate to end his alienation and resolve the cosmic dualism, anticipates that God will soon rectify human problems by destroying the Earth, and replacing it with a perfect new world, where the believer will have a new perfect body.
Now, the new thing is that people can imagine a technical solution to the problems...
Certainly, Geracis brilliant book makes it abundantly clear that these religious beliefs are deeply embedded in our culture, and that it is probably not alt that surprising that we end up having visions of heaven in robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality that borrows a lot from these existing beliefs.
What we are like and what we hope for might not have changed that much, even as our world becomes more and more ''science fiction - like''.
In apocalyptic AI it is al very simple:
First the robots will do all of our work for us. So that we will not have to fight for basic necessities. Later we will upload our minds into robotic bodies, so that we will no longer become ill, suffer mental decline or die. Our minds will also vastly improve, and we will be able to learn all sorts of skills instantaneously.
Everyone wants wisdom and wealth, but unfortunately our health often declines before we achieve these good things. So, our bodies and brains must be changed. In the end we will have changed everything that makes life seem so short and meaningless.
According to Geraci, Apocalyptic AI influences so many people because it integrates the two most significant areas in modern life, religion and technology.
Still, we are far, far away from anything that resembles mind uploading and conscious robots.
Centuries have passed since Descartes stated ''cogito ergo sum'' and yet, apparently, we aren't much closer to knowing what it means to be conscious.
Geraci quotes Alan Wallace (leader of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies) for saying that discussions about conscious robots are absurdly premature.
To Alan Wallace we are still in a pre-scientific era when it comes to human consciousness.
A very interesting and thought provoking book Geraci has written.