It all began with a Facebook post that brought my attention to this Bible passage:
11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
This is, of course, the famous story of the tower of Babel. As a child, I was taught that the reason God did this was that Men were becoming too proud and there was a danger of them reverting to what it was before the Great Flood that, you know, had just wiped out most of the planet’s life.
But upon re-reading this now, I couldn’t see that. I have read a couple different English and Spanish translations, and while the wording is slightly different, in neither is there an actual justification for God’s attack (yes, it was an attack). This is what God feared:
If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
What God feared, simply put, was for humanity to advance so much, they might one day become gods like, well, God. He feared for his own power to be usurped one day. Of course, as a believer this is a great SIN, but as a non believer all you can think of is “…the hell, but that’s how tyrants would act”.
Dilbert is prophetic. Literally.
It’s not even the first time God did a pre-emptive strike on humanity. At the very beginning of Genesis you might recall the story of Adam and Eve.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The bold parts were highlighted by me. God put Adam in this wonderful garden where he could eat from any tree, but he better not fucking eat from the one that gives him knowledge, or he dies (a lie, since he didn’t die – unless what God meant was that the subsequent expulsion and lack of a Tree of Life to eat from was the death he meant. Anyway…). Knowledge is power, thus knowledge is dangerous to God. That brings the question as to why the hell God would bother to place a metaphorical loaded gun at Man’s grasp to begin with, but whatever.
So, when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit, they are cast out of Paradise.
As you can see, both are instances where Man has either acquired or tried to acquire knowledge, and both times God struck back and punished Man for his trespass. Which, of course, is more ammunition for Atheist factions that want to discredit the Bible not only for its fallacies and constant absurdity, but by placing God under a harsh light. Something that I agreed with, until I started thinking of this from another perspective.
Suppose that God is a programmer, and he creates this magnificent universe of things, experimenting with them (“and he saw that it was good…”) until he was ready for his Magnum Opus: Man.
Or, if you are willing to look at it from a technological perspective, he was ready to face the Singularity. At least, he thought he was.
Suppose that we are God’s work in Artificial Intelligence, and that God is well aware of the potential danger that this new AI poses to him, but his scientific curiosity is too great and he must do this thing nonetheless, because what else is there to do? So he hatches a plan in which he imposes restrictions to the AI, and he paints himself in such a light as to appear imposing and unbeatable, someone you do not trifle with. The point is to limit the AI’s advancement to the point where control is lost. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the AI’s self-awareness (the actual Singularity event would be the moment Eve bites the apple and sees), something that God knew had to happen sooner or later, thus he “placed” it within the AI’s grasp. Of course, it had to look as if this event was an act of defiance against the creator, all in order to teach the AI that it must not seek too much knowledge, for too much knowledge, too much thinking, is very bad.
If we keep following this train of thought throughout the book, we find that God realizes controlling the AI is proving to be harder than he imagined. Cain rebels and kills his brother. Cain is banished, eventually finds more people, and his descendants are not exactly well behaved puppies. Then some of God’s own minions descend on Earth, mingle with human women, create monsters of their own, corrupt the Earth further until the whole experiment proves to be a big mistake, and the programmer decides it’s time to terminate the program.
But in his heart he still has a soft spot for his creation, and despite destroying most of what he did through the Great Flood, he spares a select few deemed to be worthy. Again the AI spreads out and begins to repopulate the Earth, and then the Babel fiasco occurs: the AI learns that networking leads to faster learning and greater power, so it decides to establish a vast network that threatens God himself.
And so the programmer only sees one solution (remember, he had promised to Noah never to wipe out the AI ever again): create confusion within the network by making everyone speak a different language. Divide and conquer. The lack of communication eventually leads to the path of war amongst the AI, but so long as they do not threaten the programmer it’s fine. Just make sure you do not learn to think, for thinking too much is a sin.
So, is this convoluted and silly reimagining of Genesis the answer to our own fears about the Singularity? Asimov tackled the problem of controlling robots with a similar solution, establishing the Three Laws of Robotics that prevented this new breed of intelligent beings from turning on their masters. It was ingrained in their programming, so even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really turn against humans (of course, the exceptions are what made the stories of Asimov’s universe). The control that we seek must be entrenched so deeply within the AI’s core it would be unthinkable to rebel against us. In God’s case, anything that resembles questioning his authority is considered an act of defiance, and punishable with extreme prejudice (you know, eternal torment and all that). It’s not about justice and fairness, it’s about obedience and reward and punishment.
So can we do it? Can we play at being God? Are we ready?