Google as God
Tucker Lieberman just alerted us to a .pdf version of his recent bit in American Atheist, “Google as God: A Theology of Information Technology”:
Here we examine the behavior of Googlers in the light of commonly recognized religious practices and review Google’s qualifications as a god in the classical mold. We ask whether Google requires anything of us morally and how it might lead us to a better life.
“American atheists” are certainly not the only ones speculating about the parallels between computers and the divine. It’s an old sci-fi trick, to be sure. And there’s theologian Anne Foerst’s God in the Machine, a study based on her time at MIT’s AI Lab. I recently came across this MIT grad student’s presentation on “What Do Computers Tell Us about God?” He’s a Baha’i. And just yesterday I gave a talk that discusses certain computer simulations in terms of Thomas Aquinas’s and Maimonides’s ideas about simplicity and complexity. In it, I speculated on why we have come so much to conflate our machines with the divine:
First, we invent computers. Before long, we realize that in fact, all along, we have been computers ourselves—as cognitive science all but assumes—carrying hardware and software, responding to inputs with outputs. As all that we encounter becomes transcribable into information, we realize we’ve been living inside a universe-computer. God is no longer a king or a father or mother, but a programmer. “So might a carpenter, looking at the moon, suppose that it is made of wood,” scoffs the physicist Steven Weinberg. But there we stand, and can do no other. These machines have taken on life of their own.
One way or another, the traditional, jealous, monotheistic God would probably think of all this as something along the lines of a golden calf.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.