The Cult of AI

Article by Robert Evans: “…Cult members are often depicted in the media as weak-willed and foolish. But the Church of Scientology — long accused of being a cult, an allegation they have endlessly denied — recruits heavily among the rich and powerful. The Finders, a D.C.-area cult that started in the 1970s, included a wealthy oil-company owner and multiple members with Ivy League degrees. All of them agreed to pool their money and hand over control of where they worked and how they raised their children to their cult leader. Haruki Murakami wrote that Aum Shinrikyo members, many of whom were doctors or engineers, “actively sought to be controlled.”

Perhaps this feels like a reach. But the deeper you dive into the people — and subcultures that are pushing AI forward — the more cult dynamics you begin to notice.

I should offer a caveat here: There’s nothing wrong with the basic technology we call “AI.” That wide banner term includes tools as varied as text- or facial-recognition programs, chatbots, and of course sundry tools to clone voices and generate deepfakes or rights-free images with odd numbers of fingers. CES featured some real products that harnessed the promise of machine learning (I was particularly impressed by a telescope that used AI to clean up light pollution in images). But the good stuff lived alongside nonsense like “ChatGPT for dogs” (really just an app to read your dog’s body language) and an AI-assisted fleshlight for premature ejaculators. 

And, of course, bad ideas and irrational exuberance are par for the course at CES. Since 1967, the tech industry’s premier trade show has provided anyone paying attention with a preview of how Big Tech talks about itself, and our shared future. But what I saw this year and last year, from both excited futurist fanboys and titans of industry, is a kind of unhinged messianic fervor that compares better to Scientology than to the iPhone…(More)”.