Computer-Gods: Are They Better than Yours?

April 29, 2008

I’m sure I’ve covered this before, probably several times over, but the idea seemed novel again, so I thought I’d write up another post. I’ve already pointed you to this article, but I really advise reading it, if just for the ‘hm’ factor. It’s about Mr. Wozniak, a guy who basically has turned over his life to an algorithm that he’s discovered. Apparently, it makes him into a happy genius. I would call that a plus!

That’s kind of the point of this article. Well, more so looking at religion as a set of rules, and wondering if we could do better. For all the religious folk out there, you can look at this as the closest thing I’ll ever as to the benefits of exoteric religion (esoteric religion, more commonly known as mysticism, has a lot of uses, and you look forward to plenty of adulation from me regarding that!). When I say ‘exoteric,’ I mean all the outer stuff: the rules, mores, customs, and rituals that most (though not all) ‘religious’ people practice.

Back to the point: the way I see it, religion is a set of useful rules that limit the amount of chaos in a person’s life. Don’t know what to eat? The Torah tells you to avoid pork, but everything else is golden! Don’t know if you should drink? Mormon’s, forget drinking, especially coffee! Almost all religions have a giant list of ‘commandments’ (more than ten, believe it or not) that tell their followers what, or what not to, do (some of which probably come from OCD founders, but that’s a post for another day! [a day about a year ago, in fact!]). This can be incredibly useful. It eliminates arbitrary choices that don’t ultimately matter, therefore freeing the followers up for more important tasks: you know, like converting more followers!

I for one am very partial to this side of religion. It doesn’t take someone very long to realize that I have a splash of an obsessive nature to me. I do a lot of things by the numbers, and can get antsy when the numbers don’t work out. I have a tendency to try and leave from a place at the same time every day (it’s all about efficiency!), to try and keep everything in a very well-defined place (neatness is next to godliness), and any of many other ‘OCD’-lite activities. I basically have all the hallmark signs of someone who should just love religion. Unfortunately, I also have one little quirk that spoils the whole ‘blissful ignorance’ thing for me: I like doing things differently from other people a little too much. For example, I’m a vegetarian. I use a Mac. I’m a humanist. I’m a non-theist that believes in reincarnation and astral projection. Basically, I try to take every label and turn it around. Which is just another way of me trying to ‘stand out’ while not standing out. Anyway, that’s a digression. My point was that I’d be religious if not for my non-conformist streak.

Which makes me wonder: where does that leave me? Though I already know that answer to that: it leaves me with the role of making my own arbitrary rules. Something I’ve been doing for a long time, usually unconsciously, and largely to my own benefit. But for someone like Mr. Wozniak, the rule making has become a conscious effort. Even more so, it has become a science. And he’s discovered that computers make much more reliable gods than our minds ever could.

Which makes sense: if there’s one thing that todays computers are good at, it’s reliability. If you tell a computer that 2 + 2 = 4, it will tell you that back until you tell it otherwise. It won’t try and change things up because it’s bored. It won’t rationalize that today, maybe, just maybe, 2 + 2 might equal 7. If you want a fair referee, leave it up to the computer.

Doesn’t that make computes a far better arbitrator of arbitrary rules, then? They don’t get jealous (have you read the Old Testament) or spit out non-sensical statements (have you read the writings of Paul?). They’ll just follow a logical path and give you the right answer. 90% of the time. Which is better than a coin flip, and definitely better than a schizophrenic prophet.

So here I’m making a prediction: more and more we’ll turn our daily, random choices over to computers. Research continues to show that choice, up to a point, is healthy. But past that point, it’s just darn annoying. Why not let computers make those stupid decisions for us, using their algorithms? Algorithms, by the way, that we program in.

I’m the last person in the world that would normally turn his authority over to anybody, let alone a computer. But the more we know about our nature, the more it makes sense. I guess if religion won’t go away, we can at least make it make more sense.

Here’s to Computerism!

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