Algorithms and prayers in the name of the future. Technology is the new religion

In the beginning there was TV. Marshall McLuhan understood the potential of television already in the sixties. The scholar prophesied that it would become the new world in which everyone would soon want to live. …

Algorithms and prayers in the name of the future.  Technology is the new religion

In the beginning there was TV. Marshall McLuhan understood the potential of television already in the sixties. The scholar prophesied that it would become the new world in which everyone would soon want to live. It was the new promised land, yet another collective hallucination. The artificial paradise hidden behind a screen. McLuhan was a good prophet because as a fervent Catholic he understood the religious dimension inherent in the media, a connection that the assonance between the terms communication and communion already reveals. The transition from TV to personal computer, therefore from analogue to digital, has strengthened the idea of ​​this relationship between technology and religion, a divine technology because it has become the tool with which we construct the meaning of the world and our daily life, the medium to whom we entrust our very existences.

Steve Jobs was the first deity of the new digital cult. Jobs is the Messiah, Apple is Religion, every application that is placed on the market is a new parable, yet another ritual that gives the faithful access to knowledge through a simple click. Every year Apple presents an enhanced model of its smartphone, a continuous series of genesis, of rebirths, of reincarnations of the Word-Software in new hardware. More powerful and therefore functional in attracting followers, drawn from among the restless souls of Millennials who wander around the store looking for the miracle, that is, a new spell capable of tearing them away from the boredom of a stripped-down everyday life that has now been swallowed up by the screen of their devices. Steve Jobs' life represents a founding experience for the post-human community that is now becoming institutionalized. The creator of the Bitten Apple embodied a sacred body. He was the superhero of the digital age, with the uniform / costume worn for the show-liturgy that he stages as a prophetic leader: the inevitable black turtleneck, his jeans, the mystical and ritual presentations of the new Apple products. Even Jobs' death becomes a theo-technical ordeal. His sick body treads the stages offering itself to the faithful of the Apple verb. The secular implementation of software cannot stop. The Messiah shares his pain, connected to his worshiping users. Jobs offers his suffering flesh to be eaten by his followers and, following the experience of Pope John Paul II, he shared the suffering of his illness together with his people. As happened with the message of Christ, Jobs' word survived his death and became incarnate in the chosen people, those of the users of the IOS system.

Of the new technological religion, Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, has embodied the myth relating to union, welding, re-binding, precisely inscribed in the etymological meaning of religion, from the Latin religio. Facebook is the digital Book of Books, the technological Bible, i.e. the Book of Faces, among whose pages a man made divine is revealed who, thanks to the social network, can be ubiquitous: an idea that is a word and becomes a post, an image that comes to life in the video from every place and to every place. Every bulletin board is an altar. Every cult has its gods, of the digital one Jobs and Zuckerberg are certainly the most decisive divinities for the birth of an unprecedented techno-religious form that we could define as net-mysticism.

Artificial intelligence is the latest and most powerful evolution of digital religion. In the collective imagination it is not simply a tool created and mastered by man. It's like he's taken on a life of his own, a Frankenstein of our time. AI is a true techno-magic that man invests with messianic and predictive powers. Shoshana Zuboff in her text Surveillance Capitalism highlights how the main characteristic of AI lies precisely in its oracular capacity, deriving from the possibility of extracting indications on the future behavior of users from an infinite amount of data. ChatGPT, an example of generative artificial intelligence, processes texts as if it were a human being. It is the upgrade of the table used to evoke the dead: at our request, Chatgpt fills the pages with words which, despite coming from the archive of texts generated by man and disseminated on the network, give the impression of being dictated by an entity supernatural.

The Three-Body Problem, a series broadcast by Netflix, adapted from the novel by Liu Cixin, tells of an alien race, the San-Ti, who are forced to abandon their inhospitable planet and plan to conquer the Earth. Helped by a woman. Rather than live in communism he contacts them inviting them to colonize the world. The arrival of the San-Ti on our planet is expected in four hundred years. To weaken any possible future human reaction, the aliens begin to cause the death of Earth's best scientists. The latter, in fact, begin to display a countdown: the only way to stop it is to give up their searches. Many of them kill themselves in the grip of madness. It is an image that metaphorically refers to a punishment like the one inflicted by the gods on Prometheus: the man who can challenge God and become a creator, through the fire of technology, is considered dangerous even by a very advanced alien civilization. The Earthlings try to come up with a plan to defend themselves. But it's complex. Aliens can in fact hear and see Earthlings thanks to sophons, supercomputers the size of a proton that are capable of controlling all human beings in every corner of the globe: the aim is to spy on them to find out about any technological development projects which could allow the Earthlings to progress and surpass them in the time that separates them from the meeting. Once identified, kill the scientists involved in the development of these projects at the hands of other humans, indoctrinated by the San-Ti and who have become their accomplices. The sophones' only weakness is their inability to read people's minds. The United Nations therefore creates a triad of super scientists, the Impenetrables: they will have the task of developing a defense plan from the alien attack, but they will have to do it, thanks to their exceptional qualities, in their heads, without documenting or externalizing their intuitions , to avoid being discovered by the sophons. Condemned to solitude, they will have to sacrifice their lives and confine it to the secret of thoughts, preventing the sophones from spying on their ideas and sabotaging their research, keeping them safe in their minds. The Impenetrables are hermits, postmodern saints, mystics dedicated to creative meditation aimed at going beyond the human limit and creating a divine technology that performs the miracle of saving the planet. Ultimately, McLuhan had a prophetic opinion on this too, when he apodictically asserted that mysticism is the science of tomorrow dreamed of today.

*Author of «Algorithms and prayers» (Luiss University Press)