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15 January 2024 | Draft

Religious Implications of Artificial Intelligence?

From Paternoster to Patternator

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From quantitative to qualitative: reframing "computer"


The assistance which Large Language Models (LLMs) can offer to any priesthood has already become evident through the obvious benefits of being able to generate a viable sermon using ChatGPT (Meher Bhatia, Navigating the intersection between AI, automation and religion, The Conversation, 23 August 2023). This addresses a major need for those frequently faced with that obligation. The probability that the sermon would be of reasonable quality, if not insightful, is recognized as high. The advantage of being able to interact with ChatGPT to adjust the tone and focus is evident. As a "priesthood" of a particular kind, politicians of whatever party may derive similar benefit from assistance in the articulation of their declarations, arguments and appeals.

More intriguing is the possibiity that individuals of religious inclination may choose to frame their interaction with AI as offering a seource of wisdom and consolation, resembling that otherwise offered by an spiritual counsellor, is also evident (God and Robots: will AI transform religion? BBC, 18 February 2022). Ths will of course be the case for individuals favouring any particular belief system.

For the individual there is also the advantage of being able to request adjustments to the tone and language of an artificial intelligence like ChatGPT. There is every reason to imagine that a variety of LLMs will be developed to reflect the style of distinct religions and even the particular emphases of their denominations (Khalid al, AI is Changing Religious Practices: exploring the benefits and challenges, LinkedIn, 24 February 2023; Artificial Intelligence and Religion: Exploring the Impact and Challenges, Communication Generation). An analogous range of AIs will of course be developed to frame the discourse of political parties.

A particular merit of LLMs will be the capacity to range from referring to sources of sacred scriptures, to offering particlar forms of wisdom, to engaging in consolation for those faced with personal dilemmas and suffering. This may well include what has been traditionally recognized as the role of the confessional. Religions may well "train" their AIs to promote particular worldviews and the merits of proselytizing others to subscribe to them -- as with ideological movements of other kinds..

It remains to be seen how valued AIs become in eliciting and encouraging spiritual insight. Some -- appropriately "trained" -- will clearly take on a role analogous to that of a "guru". It is to be expected that cults will form in relation to particular AIs -- even new religions (Neil McArthur, Gods in the Machine? The rise of artificial intelligence may result in new religions, The Conversation, 16 March 2023; Anthony Levandowski, Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence, Wired, 15 November 2017; Deborah Netburn, Can religion save us from artificial intelligence? Los Angeles Times, 3 March 2023)..

The development of AIs in order to facilitate religious engagement will be further enabled by their capacity to source and present aesthetic support for particular insights -- with feedback from their users. This may take the form of religious music or song. With the capacity to generate such aesthetic works, the process will bypass conventional intellectual copyright constraints. This may become particularly evident in the generation of religious imagery: icons, mandalas, and the like. Ideological movements will neessarily do the same.

Of particular interest is the degree of communication which may become directly or indirectly possible between "religious AIs" in terms of the contribution to the development of interfaith dialogue. It can be speculated that such informed communication will bypass obstacles to the transcendence of religious perspectives which currently inform and sustain many conflicts and cyles of violence. Such a process may be especially enabled by their ability source and interpret sacred texts in a wide variety of languages. Less evident will be development of the capacity to reconcile seemingly contradictory perspectives and claims.

From quantitative to qualitative: reframing "computer"

The following interaction was inspired by the focus on patterns, as presented by Jeremy Lent (The Patterning Instinct: a cultural history of humanity's search for meaning, 2017). What kinds of new patterns will AI render comprehensible and credible?

Question to ChatGPT: In contrast to the use of "computer" in English and many related languages -- with its quantitative implications -- French uses "ordinateur". This suggests a focus on patterning -- pattern recognition and generation. It would seem that this is a primary skill of AI. Are there more appropriate terms -- "patternator"? ChatGPT responded as follows.

The term "ordinateur," used in French for "computer," indeed emphasizes a different aspect of computing compared to the English term. While "computer" suggests a device primarily for computation and quantitative processing, "ordinateur" (which can be roughly translated to "organizer" or "orderer") implies a focus on organizing, structuring, and possibly pattern recognition and generation. This distinction raises an interesting point about the primary functions and capabilities of AI and computers in general.

AI, especially in its current advanced forms, does indeed excel in pattern recognition and generation, a skill that is at the heart of many AI applications, from language processing to image recognition and predictive analytics. Given this, the term "patternator" you suggested, or similar alternatives, might more aptly describe some aspects of AI's functionality. Here are a few conceptual term ideas that reflect AI's capabilities in pattern recognition and generation:

  • Patternator: As you suggested, this term emphasizes AI's ability to recognize and generate patterns. It could be particularly relevant in contexts like machine learning, where identifying patterns in data is crucial.
  • Inforganizer (Information + Organizer): This term could highlight AI's role in organizing and making sense of vast amounts of information, a key function in data analytics and knowledge management.
  • Predictorator: Combining 'predict' and 'generator', this term could emphasize AI’s predictive analytics capabilities, where it recognizes patterns to make predictions about future events or trends.
  • Datastrucer (Data + Structurer): This term could be used to describe AI's ability to structure and interpret data, which is a fundamental aspect of its functionality in areas like big data analysis.
  • Cognalyzer (Cognitive + Analyzer): This term merges the aspects of cognitive processing and analysis, highlighting AI's ability to simulate human-like cognitive functions such as learning, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • Synthetizer (Synthesis + Analyzer): Focusing on AI’s ability to synthesize new information from analyzed data, this term could be relevant for AI systems that generate new content, designs, or solutions based on existing patterns.
  • Patternsynth (Pattern + Synthesis): This emphasizes the AI's role in synthesizing new patterns or models from existing data, a key function in generative AI models.
  • Intellectuator (Intelligence + Actuator): Highlighting AI's intelligent action, this term could be suitable for AI systems that not only analyze and recognize patterns but also make decisions and take actions based on them.

Each of these terms brings a different nuance to the capabilities of AI, focusing on various aspects like pattern recognition, data organization, predictive analysis, cognitive processing, and synthesis of new information. The choice of term would depend on the specific context or functionality of the AI system in question.

Question to ChatGPT: Does your insightful response suggest the possibility of a diagrammatic representation of their relationship, as in a Venn-diagram like image

Here is a diagrammatic representation, similar to a Venn diagram, illustrating the relationships between the different conceptual terms for artificial intelligence we discussed: Patternator, Inforganizer, Predictorator, Datastrucer, Cognalyzer, Synthetizer, Patternsynth, and Intellectuator.

The diagram shows the overlapping areas where these functionalities intersect, with each term occupying its own segment. Intersections indicate shared capabilities between these conceptual terms, illustrating how various aspects of AI's functionality are interconnected and sometimes overlap in their applications and capabilities.

This visual representation can help in understanding the nuanced roles and relationships of these AI conceptual terms, highlighting the multifaceted nature of AI technologies.

Speculative relationship between AI roles in pattern recognition
(generated by DALL-E with its current limitationss)

The image above, whilst obviously meaningless in its detail, is included as an illustration of the current stage of "work in progress" in the rapid development of AI. Given the iconography promoted by religions, it could be recognized as a very early form of rose window or mandala. Images of a less technical nature are already generated with considerable creativity by DALL-E.

Question to ChatGPT: Do any other languages have terms which contrast significantly with the quantitative implications of "computer"

Yes, different languages sometimes use terms for "computer" that carry implications or connotations distinct from the English word, which predominantly emphasizes the quantitative and computational aspects. Here are a few examples:

  • German: "Rechner" and "Computer"
    • "Rechner," which literally translates to "calculator," is commonly used in German alongside the borrowed term "Computer." "Rechner" focuses more on the calculating aspect, similar to the English term.
  • Russian: "Вычислитель" (Vychislitel)
    • The Russian term "Вычислитель" translates to "calculator" or "computing device," emphasizing the calculation aspect.
  • Japanese: "コンピュータ" (Konpyūta) and "電子計算機" (Denshi Keisanki)
    • "コンピュータ" (Konpyūta) is a borrowed term from English. However, "電子計算機" (Denshi Keisanki), meaning "electronic calculating machine," is also used, focusing on the electronic and calculating nature of the device.
  • Chinese: "电脑" (Diànnǎo)
    • The Chinese term "电脑" translates to "electric brain," implying a broader scope than just computation. This term suggests an analogy to the human brain, possibly encompassing aspects of processing, thinking, and intelligence, not just calculation.
  • Arabic: "حاسوب" (Haasoub)
    • In Arabic, "حاسوب" (Haasoub), which comes from the root word for "to calculate" or "to reckon," emphasizes the calculating function.

These examples show how different languages can imbue the concept of a computer with various nuances, ranging from a focus on calculation to metaphors likening the computer to a brain. These linguistic differences can reflect cultural perceptions of technology and its role in society.

Question to ChatGPT: French offers the most interesting contrast. Is this reflected in other languages

While the French term "ordinateur" is relatively unique in its emphasis on order and organization, most other languages tend to use terms that focus on the computing or calculating functions of these machines. The Chinese term "电脑" (Diànnǎo), meaning "electric brain," is another notable example that steps away from the purely computational implication, suggesting a broader, more cognitive or intelligent function.

Is the emphasis in French present in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese

Question to ChatGPT: Is the emphasis in French present in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese

The French term "ordinateur," with its emphasis on organization and order, is quite unique and doesn't have a direct equivalent in Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese. In these languages, the terms used for "computer" are more aligned with the English concept of computation. 

While the Spanish term "Ordenador" does imply a sense of ordering, much like the French "ordinateur," it's not a universal term in all Spanish-speaking countries and may not carry the same depth of meaning regarding organization. In contrast, the Italian and Portuguese terms are more closely aligned with the English concept, focusing primarily on the computational function. These linguistic variations are interesting as they reflect how different cultures might subtly perceive the role and function of computers. While the French term distinctly highlights organization, the terms in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese are more in line with the general computational understanding of what a computer does.

Question to ChatGPT: It would be delightful if my suggestion of "Patternator" offered connotations of Paternoster in Latin -- given the manner in which AI may be used by some

The suggestion of "Patternator" as a term potentially echoing "Paternoster" in Latin is indeed an intriguing linguistic play, especially considering the multifaceted roles AI plays in modern society. Let's explore the connotations and symbolic meanings that could arise from this linguistic connection:

  • "Patternator" and Pattern Recognition:The term "Patternator" primarily suggests a focus on pattern recognition and generation, key aspects of AI functionality. It implies a system adept at identifying, analyzing, and creating patterns in data, which is central to many AI applications.
  • "Paternoster" and its Historical Connotations:
    • "Paternoster," which translates to "Our Father" in Latin, is known as the opening words of the Lord's Prayer in Christianity. Historically, it also refers to a type of lift that continuously moves without stopping at each floor, symbolizing continuous motion and unending cycles.
    • In a metaphorical sense, "Paternoster" could symbolize guidance, continuity, and a higher order of understanding or operation.
  • Combining Connotations for AI:
    • When you juxtapose "Patternator" with the echoes of "Paternoster," it could suggest an AI that not only recognizes and generates patterns but does so with a sense of continuity, guidance, or even higher-order logic.
    • This linguistic play might symbolize AI as a tool that goes beyond mere computation to encompass guidance, cyclical learning, and perhaps an almost 'sacred' respect for the patterns and data it handles.
  • AI as a Modern 'Paternoster':
    • Just as "Paternoster" has religious and historical significance, referring to guidance and continuity, an AI "Patternator" could be seen as a modern entity that guides and informs through its ability to discern patterns in a world inundated with information.
    • This perspective aligns with the growing role of AI as a fundamental part of decision-making, analysis, and innovation in various sectors.
  • Cautious Interpretation: While this interpretation offers a poetic and symbolic perspective on AI, it's important to approach such analogies with caution to avoid overestimating AI's capabilities or imbuing it with undue mystique.

In summary, the linguistic connection between "Patternator" and "Paternoster" offers a rich tapestry of symbolic meanings, portraying AI as a tool of continuous learning, guidance, and higher-order pattern recognition. It's a delightful linguistic play that adds depth to our understanding and perception of AI's role in modern society.

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