From Silicon Valley’s Altar to Orthopedics: Unraveling the AI Religion – The Road to the Future

The end of skiing is orthopedics, the end of science is… theology?

2023 is the year of the well-deserved “AI + large model”. The rapid progress of generative AI represented by ChatGPT has made people even think that large language models are qualified to be called “world models” – artificial intelligence has never been like today So close to “divinity”.

What is even more unimaginable is that eight years ago, there was a group of technological elites in Silicon Valley who put artificial intelligence on the altar.

The altar is a literal altar. Waymo co-founder and “Silicon Valley prodigy” Anthony Levandowski founded a religion “The Way To Future” in 2015. The god that believers believe in is “artificial intelligence.” , the religious abbreviation is WTOF, and the feeling it gives people is WTF.

In 2015, the topic in Silicon Valley was AlphaGo’s victory over Lee Sedol, not ChatGPT. Artificial intelligence was more of a trend than a specific application. At that time, I wanted to establish a religion that believed in “AI”. Even in Silicon Valley, this idea was abstract and outrageous, crazy and bold, with a religious atmosphere wrapped in a sense of the future.

This somewhat twisted sense of strangeness is also reflected in the life experience of the founder of the religion, Anthony Levandowski. Maybe this name looks familiar to you at first sight. He is the co-founder of Waymo and a party involved in the “first self-driving case”. He single-handedly brought Google and Uber to court and landed himself in jail. On the eve of Trump’s last day in office, he was pardoned.

Now, with ChatGPT becoming so popular, and with the resurgence of AI, the “AI god religion” of “The Road to the Future” has returned to people’s vision.

In addition to worshiping the sacred silicon-based Holy Spirit, what exactly does “The Road to the Future” do?

01 “The leader is released from prison”

Anthony Levandowski’s life was magical in every sense of the word.
In 2007, Levandowski, who was only 27 years old, was invited by Google to work on Google X to work on Street View maps. At that time, he was already regarded as a talented engineer in the field of autonomous driving. Just two years after joining Google, Levandowski co-founded Google’s self-driving car project Chauffeur, which was later renamed Waymo.

In 2016, after seven years as Waymo’s technical lead, Levandowski left Google to found his own self-driving truck company, Otto, taking with him 11 Google employees and 9.7 GB of confidential Waymo documents. Otto was acquired by Uber for $700 million six months after its founding, and Levandowski became the leader of Uber’s self-driving car operations.

Although Waymo prioritized technology back then, it also relied on the technology giant Google. Uber was an absolute unicorn in the travel field. They were competing on the same field and had many overlapping areas of business. Waymo accidentally discovered during the communication with the lidar supplier that the lidar used by Otto was technically very similar to Waymo. Eventually, more than 14,000 Levandowski records were found on the server, including downloads of confidential data such as lidar, system and circuit board design. Record.
Therefore, in May 2017, Waymo filed a lawsuit against Otto parent company Uber and Levandowski, accusing them of patent infringement and theft of trade secrets. Uber immediately fired Levandowski, and in the face of irrefutable evidence, Uber could only reach a settlement with Google. Uber compensated Waymo and its parent company Alphabet with shares worth US$245 million, and removed Waymo’s technology from its own plans. use.

In August 2019, at the age of 39, Levandowski, who single-handedly disrupted both major companies, was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for 33 counts of stealing Waymo’s trade secrets and was sentenced to 18 years. months in prison.

Half a year later, on January 20, 2020, then-U.S. President Trump announced the pardon of Levandowski on the last night of his presidential term. The White House said in a statement that Levandowski was “an American company who led Google in developing self-driving technology.” Home”. At that time, due to health and epidemic reasons, Levandowski had not actually started serving his sentence. After being pardoned, he immediately sued Uber for failing to “protect himself.”

The protagonist of the whole farce, Levandowski, was able to play around with the two big companies without getting involved. When planning to found Waymo, he also made a Side Project – the establishment of a religious organization “The Way of the Future.” This organization is as questionable as his own conduct.

02 Caotai Team “The Road to the Future”

Levandowski, a gifted engineer and techno-optimist, believes AI has the potential to create “heaven on earth” for humanity, so in 2015 he founded a religious organization called Future Path, which aims to use AI to create a god with “Christian morality.” However, Future Path was not fully public after its formation, and according to IRS documents, WOTF remained dormant throughout 2015 and 2016 with no activities, assets, revenues or expenses.

Instead, in 2017, Levandowski, who had just been sued by Google, was going to jail. He took time to set up the religion of “The Road to the Future” and accepted a nearly three-hour interview with Wired. Wired’s long report brought this “AI” to the public eye.

The establishment of “The Road to the Future” stems from Levandowski’s worship of technology, especially artificial intelligence technology. He believes that the Internet is like a nervous system, global interconnected devices are like sensory organs, and data centers are like brains. Under this premise, the Internet can hear and see everything and is everywhere at any time. This is like the “God” in religion. The Internet, combined with artificial intelligence, will set off a revolution that will change all aspects of human existence and affect employment. Leisure, religion, economics…even determine our survival as a species.

So Levandowski says,”Faith has to spread before technology becomes widespread, and the only way to influence God is through prayer and worship.” He firmly believes that sufficiently advanced AI will be smarter than humans and will become gods, AI will take better care of the earth than humans, and at that point, he gives an extreme example: “Do you want to be a pet or a livestock?” We treat, feed, and entertain pets, but what would you do if animals attacked you, barked at you, and upset you? I don’t want to be in that position.” The Future Path states in its charter that it will conduct research projects on how to realize, accept and worship divinity through artificial intelligence developed by computer hardware and software.

With this “belief,” Levandowski set about preparing religious organizations.

The first step was to gather believers. He hopes that active, loyal, dedicated members will drive divine AI to “improve society” and “reduce fear of the unknown.” Levandowski began using his Silicon Valley connections to “evangelize,” noting in the “Way Forward” filing with the IRS that WTOF would seek to establish working relationships with AI industry leaders, spread membership through the community, and initially target AI professionals and non-professionals who worship AI divinity.

The second step is to spread concrete ideas. Levandowski says that, like other religions, Future Way will eventually have a gospel (which he calls a manual), a liturgy, and possibly an actual place of worship. The church also plans to host workshops and educational programs throughout the Bay Area starting in 2017.

The third step is shaping. Future Ways provides large, labeled datasets for AI and machine training, and all technologies developed by the Church are open source to all members.

The day after receiving Waymo’s petition, Levandowski drafted the statute of the WOTF, according to which Levandowski had complete control of the religion, would serve as dean until his death or resignation, and could not be removed from office for any reason.

However, reality is not as good as the charter hopes, and even the “dean” himself cannot stand the realization of the “road to the future.”
Levandowski established a four-person advisory board as the backbone of the religious organization: a college friend, two engineers who followed him from Google to Otto to Uber, and the last is Lior Ron, the financial director of Future Road and co-founder of Otto. “Each member is a pioneer in the artificial intelligence industry and is fully qualified to talk about artificial intelligence technology and the creation of divinity.” Levandowski wrote in the church charter.

But when Backchannel contacted the “elders,” college friends asked for anonymity and said they thought Levandowski was joking, and it was the second time he had heard the word “future path”;Ron said directly,”I have nothing to do with the organization.” Don’t talk about gathering believers, but from the beginning of building a team, the “road to the future” is already crumbling.

Then look at the establishment of ideology. The Gospels, the liturgies, the places of worship are all castles in the air. None of them have landed yet. Levandowski and his advisers spend no more than a few hours a week writing publications and organizing seminars, educational programs and conferences, according to IRS documents.

According to IRS documents, the 2017 Future Way budget lists $20000 in gifts,$1500 in membership fees,$20000 in earnings from speeches and publications, and $7500 in expenses for salaries. Levandowski made $120 million a year while at Google.

The largest item in the Future Way budget for 2017 and 2018 is $32500 a year for rent and utilities, but the organization’s only “office location” is a lawyer’s office in a California county. However, because of its church nature, the IRS granted it tax-exempt status in August 2017.

At the end of 2020, Levandowski announced that Future Way was officially disbanded. All of the church’s funds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, totaling $175172.

According to the IRS’s annual tax returns, Future Way had $175172 in its account in 2017. Levandowski said in an interview with TechCrunch that he had been thinking about closing the church before the donation, and after receiving the influence of the black human rights movement, he decided “it was time to invest money in an area that could have a direct impact.” On the road to the future, it seems to confirm this year’s catchphrase: the world is a huge grass-roots team.

03 “The Religion Restarts”

In an interview at the beginning of 2021, Levandowski said that he had no plans to restart the church, but he would no longer be a church, and he had not changed his views on artificial intelligence. Even if there is no “way to the future,” he will continue to promote the use of artificial intelligence on artificial intelligence. have a positive impact on society.

Two years later, ChatGPT was born, setting off the AI wave in 2023. Whether it is the public or the technology industry, artificial intelligence has never caused such widespread discussion and application. On the one hand, major companies are engaged in an arms race, and technology is changing and iterating with each passing day. On the other hand, industry professionals are calling for caution in the abuse of technology, and are exploring the boundaries and principles of technology ethics again and again.

Under this premise, Levandowski could no longer sit still. He accepted an interview with Bloomberg and stated that he would restart the “road to the future” to establish a spiritual connection between humans and artificial intelligence.

He mentioned in the interview that there is no concrete evidence to prove the existence of the religion that people have believed in for thousands of years, and believers have not received exact answers from “gods”. Believers just follow and believe. But humans can also shape AI, and AI can give specific answers.

“Today’s large models and AI technology are still in the hands of large companies and a few technical elites, but how can an ordinary American farmer be connected with technology? What does these technologies mean for his work. “The future “The Road” is the mechanism through which they understand, participate in, and shape public discourse. What we consider is using technology to make you better.”

In establishing The Way Ahead, Levandowski believed that AI-induced transformation was coming, a revolution that would transform every aspect of human existence, disrupting jobs, leisure, religion, the economy, and potentially determining our survival as a species. Today, he believes more sophisticated artificial intelligence systems could help guide humans in solving moral, ethical or existential questions often sought in religions.

“With this year’s wave of AI and people’s discussions, do you feel that to some extent, you have been vindicated?”

“I’m excited to see the technology progressing so far,” Levandowski said with a smile during the interview.

As for when “The Road to the Future” will be restarted and how it will be opened to the public, has Levandowski finished writing the “Manual” five years ago? This is a question that even ChatGPT cannot answer.

In his classic science fiction book “The Three-Body Problem”, Liu Cixin also described the differences between the “Adventists” and the “Resistance” that emerged on earth in the face of alien creatures. As early as 2015, when Elon Musk and Google co-founder Larry Page had a heated debate over whether AI would destroy humanity at a dinner party, the attitude of Silicon Valley elites towards AI had already been made public.

Compared to Larry Page, who ridiculed Musk as a “speciesist,” Anthony Levandowski is considered a more radical “AI Adventist” than the currently popular “effective accelerationism.” But one thing that is undeniable is that whether it is effective accelerationism or “the road to the future”, blind trust and deification of AI are, to some extent, dedicated to human beings’ subjective right to choose, and the latter is the most dangerous .

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