Will Silicon Be Our Salvation?
In the world of technology, there is an idea called the singularity. It’s a future day when machines will empower humans to transcend our bodies and live eternally in the silicon and fiber of computers and the Internet. Man, living forever? That sounds familiar.
People have achieved some amazing things using technology. Every day it seems, I see a new story about some amazing feat technology has accomplished, whether it’s AI winning the world’s most complex game, or a new algorithm that can replicate human writing in an uncanny way. Even Microsoft recently patented a concept for turning people’s data into a chatbot after they die. (Black Mirror, anyone?) So it’s no wonder that some see immortality as technology’s final frontier.
With possibilities like this, technology sounds less and less like a tool people use, and more and more like a god people worship.
All religions have a vision of what the future looks like, a picture of their utopia. They provide a way to get there, a path of salvation. Buddhists find that salvation in the Noble Eightfold Path, Muslims find it in the Mercy of God, and Christians find that salvation in Jesus. Now, with technology, people are hoping for salvation through the Singularity.
The Promises of Technology
Salvation isn’t the only way technology is imitating traditional religions. Technology is turning into a religion in other ways too. . . .
It promises community. Whereas Christians talk about being united in Christ, technology’s believers will aspire to unity through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse. And if the Singularity is ever achieved, the uploaded persons will be united together in silicon and fiber.
It promises new identities. Whereas Christians talk about finding their identity in Christ, technology’s believers may find their identity through avatars or personal branding.
It has its prophets. Like any religion, technology has voices heralding those promises and saints who are living them out. Steve promised users they could begin to “Think Different.” Elon fuels our hopes to transcend our own planet. Mark promises to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” Meanwhile, Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering for Google, is perhaps transhumanism’s most famous evangelist, proclaiming to anyone who will listen, “The Singularity is Near.”
It has its sacred texts. Special revelations are first given to a few before being distributed to the many. In digital technology, coding languages are forms of special knowledge that give programmers a unique gift, a kind of superpower.
It calls for our worship. Worship is what we do to honor the higher power. We acknowledge its strength and orient our lives that we might receive its gifts. We give thanks for its blessings. We remember and recount all the good things it has bestowed.
“Who will save me from this body of death?”
While people’s attitude toward technology certainly seems religious, the Bible uses another word for such an attitude toward technology. When humans begin to worship the works of their hands, the Bible consistently calls it idolatry.
The prophet Isaiah paints a picture that illustrates it well. In Isaiah 44, he says, “The wood-carver measures a block of wood . . . and carves it into a human figure. He uses part of the wood to make a fire . . . then . . . he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship!”
It’s not that technology doesn’t offer us real, actual good. It does! Where a block of wood keeps us warm, modern devices keep us connected and informed. Neither of these are bad things. We truly need warmth and human connection.
The risk for our own hearts comes when we take that good thing from God and turn it into an ultimate thing. When we see technology as the giver and not the gift. When the bright lights of technology distract us from the sunlight of God’s love. When we hope it will meet all our needs. That’s when we know we’re dealing with an idol. That is the moment technology has become our religion.
Fortunately, we can learn from Isaiah’s age-old wood-carver and avoid making the same ancient mistake. Isaiah concludes, “He trusts something that can’t help him at all.” In the same way, putting our hope in the Singularity is no hope at all. Shedding our bodies to merge our minds with silicon and fiber doesn’t free us from our bodies. It traps us inside a computer.
That doesn’t sound like heaven. That sounds like a nightmare.
The salvation the singularity offers is not freedom, but enslavement. Idols do not make us more human, but less. The utopian hope that technology will save us, in the end, fails us.
Technology is a Gift … and God is the Giver
The salvation God promises is not freedom from our bodies either, but rather he promises bodies remade. A body like his. With a redeemed identity, a redeemed community. Our bodies are not cages in which we are trapped, but gifts we are given to enjoy and use to love and serve God and others.
And like our bodies, technology too can be a gift we enjoy and use. Despite its risk of becoming an idol, technology need not be completely rejected. Although sometimes we do need to smash our idols, at other times we simply need to put them back in their place, rightly ordered in our hearts.
So where does the Gospel place technology in our lives?
While it shouldn’t define our identities or put boundaries around our relationships, technology can be an aspect of them. While its prophets and saints should not be the first voices we listen to, they can be co-creators who reflect God’s image. You may have heard it said, “Technology is a great servant, but a terrible master.” Technology doesn’t need to be our religion, but it can serve to bolster our faith in God.
The truth is, technology does offer us real, actual good. We experience it every day in countless ways. When we text someone we love. When GPS helps us explore somewhere new. When we scroll through our photos and remember all the good gifts we’ve been given. We can be grateful for all of this.
But there’s a big difference between being grateful for a gift and worshipping that gift.
Technology is a good gift God has given. But the real power is in the giver, not the gift. If we turn to technology for power and blessings, we’re no better than the wood-carver. But if we turn to God and receive his abundant gifts, technology will also find its rightful place in our lives. Not as our god. Not as our religion. But as a good gift from God. One that we can receive from him and then give back to him. Instead of worshiping technology, technology can become an act of worshiping God.