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Digital religions: Faith in a technological future

Driven by a combination of scientific and technological progress, and by the post-truth contemporary mindset, a radical shift in religious preferences is unfolding across America and Europe.

The number of people around the world with a religious affiliation is dropping. In the US, non-believers are forecast to increase from 59 million in 2010 to 111 million in 2050, and in Europe, from 140 million in 2010 to 162 million in 2050. One-in-four (25%) adults in the US under the age of 30 do not believe in any religious tradition, and prefer to self-identify as atheists or agnostics.

Generation Z, the focus cohort of WGSN Insight’s latest white paper,  is forecast to be the first truly “post-Christian” generation. According to a 2018 report from market research company Barna, which specialises in studying religious beliefs in the US, more than a third of Gen Z (37%) believe it is impossible to prove if God is real, compared to 32% of all adults.

Digital religion and godlike AI have the potential to respond to the human need for spirituality, offering an alternative to traditional Eastern and Western religious worship, and now, concrete definitions around this theory now exist.

“Technotheism” is a new form of faith based on a concept that applies some of the traditional ideas around religion to the technical world, and finds equivalence between god and technology. Indeed, it should be considered that AI promises the creation of a form of superior life, pushing change through technical progress and miracles through algorithms.

This shift in faith we’ve been tracking is now marked with real-world examples. Way of the Future is the world’s first AI church, founded by US self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski, a co-founder of Otto and former Uber employee. The church focuses on facilitating the transition toward a new governance of the planet, shifting from humans to a combination of humans and technology. In an interview with Wired in November 2017, Levandowski stated that the aims of the church are to procure further funding for AI research and to create business relationships with AI industry leaders, as well as to promote inclusivity and participation in the AI revolution: “I wanted a way for everybody to participate in this, to be able to shape it. If you’re not a software engineer, you can still help.”

Vince Lynch, founder of IV.AI, a company that builds custom AI for enterprises, believes that there is a close similarity between the functional structure of organised religion and AI. To support his viewpoint, Lynch created an experiment in which an AI model which has been fed Bible quotes writes its own sacred verses.

WGSN Insight have reported in depth on this shifting narrative around religion and the reverence of AI. Read the full report here.

Like this author? Follow our Emerging Attitudes Editor Martina Rocca here.

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