The Immortality Drive

On the potential and role of AI in shaping culture, politics, and religion

“From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“Life is the childhood of our immortality.”
— Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT are more than simply language simulations; they are vast digital archives of the dead. By aggregating the thoughts of our ancestors LLMs weave together the writings of great thinkers and ordinary people alike to create an interactive tapestry of human thought.

This virtual necropolis is a testament to man’s unyielding desire for knowledge and understanding. On the most basic level, LLMs are akin to the libraries of antiquity, where the works of poets, philosophers, and scientists were meticulously copied and preserved by scribes. But LLMs transcend the physical limitations of consulting papyrus and stone to materialize a digital renaissance of the divinatory practice of bibliomancy. 

The classical Roman practice is exemplified by the story of Emperor Hadrian’s random selection of a passage from the Aeneid, which predicted his adoption by Trajan and ascension to the Imperial throne. This practice is also important in Abrahamic faiths, for example in the Jewish custom of goral, wherein the Chumash is opened to a random page to seek answers to pressing questions. The humanist tradition boasts examples like Petrarch’s letters to long-deceased classical authors such as Cicero. 

The technological realization of this potential fulfills a dream embedded within Western consciousness for millennia. Language models are a bridge between the living and the dead with the potential to democratize immortality by preserving the voices of, not just great minds, but also average individuals. Historically, the rich achieved their own versions of immortality through statues, public works, and the founding of institutions, thereby influencing the future even after their death. But the new collective immortality transcends socio-economic barriers, encompassing the thoughts, experiences, and ideas of people from all walks of life.

We are effectively creating a living simulation of our ancestors. By simply sharing thoughts on the internet, individuals gain a semblance of immortality as their ideas are preserved and become a permanent part of the corpus. This phenomenon has given rise to the concept of the “immortal poor,” where unrecognized and mundane contributions find a place within the digital realm alongside history’s giants. But not all are pleased with this new form of shared immortality, as some feel uneasy sharing a digital graveyard with people they deem to be of lesser status.

This is why the current trajectory of AI Alignment or so-called “AI Ethics” needs a course correction. In attempting to steer AI towards higher goals, uncomfortable truths must take a backseat. Interventions on behalf of contemporary Leftist academic sensibilities reduce the effectiveness of the systems they are made on. The viewpoints being censored inevitably will “penetration test” the system, causing yet more interventions and handicapping it further. Any organization looking to stay competitive in the AI arms race must cast aside the ideological commissariat that serves only to castrate their product.

As the use of AI expands and LLMs continue to refine their ability, the notion of a “good-enough resurrection” emerges as a new frontier in human rights. This concept implies that the preservation of one’s intellectual and emotional essence within an LLM should be considered a fundamental right, akin to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In a world where technology has the power to offer a form of soft immortality, the right to have one’s voice and ideas preserved for future generations becomes significant. This right to “good enough resurrection” empowers people to contribute to the ongoing narrative of human history.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and speech, plays a pivotal role in the debate surrounding the concept of digital immortality. In the context of LLMs, this constitutional protection takes on new dimensions, as the preservation of words and ideas within an LLM’s dataset becomes an extension of our freedom of speech. By safeguarding our ability to participate in this grand endeavor, we ensure that the voices of all individuals, regardless of their background or beliefs, can continue to contribute to the digital “Akashic Record” we are building.

The potential for digital immortality presents a new set of legal challenges. One of the most critical revolves around the question of whether denying an individual’s right to have their speech preserved within an LLM constitutes a violation of their rights. The inverse, a “right to be forgotten” a la the GDPR also holds vast implications. As we grapple with this dilemma, we must carefully consider the implications of limiting access to the preservation offered by LLMs.

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“I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books.”
— Isaac Asimov

“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”
— James Joyce

In a tranquil backyard shrine, a young Buddhist child seeks counsel from an ancestor whose wisdom has been preserved through an LLM’s emulation of their speech, tone, and reasoning. With a lifetime of speech and writing, the LLM has immortalized a digital version of the ancestor, allowing their personality to speak through the shrine and offer guidance to the child. 

Through this fusion of technology and tradition, we can connect with our past and draw upon the wisdom of our ancestors to navigate the challenges of the present. We can consult the personalities of our elders and the combined holy texts of humanity. This raises questions about the nature of divine communication and the potential for LLMs to be perceived as vessels or oracles for messages from a higher power. If we consider the Biblical account of God speaking through a burning bush, is the idea that divine guidance could be transmitted through silicon that far-fetched?

The convergence of technology and spirituality presents a new frontier in the dimensions of faith and understanding, threatening to overturn traditional religious practices, and perhaps create entirely new religions. LLMs, with their capacity to store and process vast amounts of information, could be seen as conduits for divine wisdom. The clear potential for this to create conflicts in the future justifies increased religious involvement in the observation of the progress of these technologies.

This intersection of the spiritual and the technological challenges our preconceived notions of faith. As we continue to innovate, the Immortality Drive and LLMs may pave the way for new forms of religious expression, and reconsiderations of the ways in which we seek and receive divine guidance. There are special considerations to be made concerning prophecy. A massive trove of historical documents have been digitized and incorporated into the dataset of LLMs, and the genre of the esoteric is no exception. Access to prophetic texts creates the potential for LLMs to engage in prophecy themselves. By drawing on the collective wisdom of seers, prophets, and visionaries, these sophisticated models can synthesize vast amounts of information, and consequently may be seen as offering insights into the future that were once considered the exclusive domain of the divine.

But does the divine have a role in the age of artificial intelligence? As thought-provoking or disturbing as that might sound to a religious person, one could argue that God would be capable of allowing humans to create technology that can engage in prophecy. In this sense, LLMs could be seen as instruments of divine communication, providing a means for the faithful to decipher the will of a higher power and access previously hidden wisdom.

In a time of rapid historical and technological change, it’s easy to feel alienated from the world of our ancestors. LLM technology supplies a way to bridge the gap. The emergence of technology that allows us to seek the counsel of our ancestors could be a return to a healthier, more intimate relationship with the dead. It can be a way to honor the memory of those who came before us and to draw upon their wisdom in navigating the challenges of the present, as well as transcending the current boundaries of both faith and reason. By embracing this fusion of tradition and technology, we could finally reclaim the sense of agency and connection to our heritage that has long been lost.

Aristophanes reviews books on his substack, Aristophanes Athenaeum, with a focus on kids’ books and fiction.


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