Nikolas Badminton is an in-demand Futurist Keynote Speaker and he speaks regularly on TV and radio. Here we see Nikolas speak with Jeff Sammut on Sirius XM’s Canada Now on Our Lives with Robots as Gods. Our lives are examined where robots and artificial intelligence will rise to be come Gods in our eyes (or not). This is deep subject with controversial opinions and unexpected outcomes. The video and full transcription is included.
Jeff Sammut (JS): So what will the relationship be between gods and robots? Will divine beings become robotic? How is tech helping religion? Award winning futurist researcher, and keynote speaker Nikolas Badminton joins us on Canada Now. Good to have you back on the show, my friend.
Nikolas Badminton (NB): Thanks for having me, Jeff.
JS: You were here on Friday and I said, I need some more Nik Badminton, this is what I need.
Nik Badminton: Yeah, yeah. I’m always in. I’m always in.
JS: I appreciate your being back. So on your website, nikolasbadminton.com you’ve got a number of great articles and things that you bring to the forefront, to the attention of a lot of people. And one thing is it is about the relationship between gods and robots, and it seems that, I was going to say this is part of our future, but it seems like this is part of our present.
NB: Yeah. We’re in a situation where there’s lots of discussion around artificial intelligence and machine learning and data being generated every day and who’s going to tap into that and where’s that going to lead?
But I wrote an article in the last a week or so about these robots that churches are starting to deploy to take the place of priests. So I first saw this coming out of Asia, some Daoist ceremonies, whatever, have actually got need to have teams of priests literally working in shifts to do five, six hour long funeral chanting and mantras or whatever. You’ve got priests there, blessing people, whatever, in Europe and North America. And there’s all these robots that are being deployed to do the grunt work for the priests.
JS: Especially the chanting.
NB: Yeah. The chanting.
JS: It’s a repetitive motion, yeah.
NB: But are we passing off this baton as humans in this divinity … this divine sense of self, that we believe in this higher being or whatever, to these encoded robots. And in that very nature, are we actually creating divine beings that are mechanical?
JS: So do you think that that’s where it might lead? Where, while these robots are trying to help out the priests, let’s say, that there might be a transference of worship in some way to tech as opposed to a higher being of some sort?
NB: It’s really interesting. So there’s a quite controversial guy, down in Silicon Valley, where else, called [Antoni Levindenski 00:02:34], and he was a Google engineer on self driving cars and he’s gone on to other companies now. And he formed the world’s first AI based religion.
NB: Yeah. I don’t know how far it’s gone down that route.
JS:Oh boy, wow.
NB: And he’s a provocateur, right? So he’s throwing these ideas out there. There’s lots of people that are trying to create these machines that we almost a deify, in a way. And so I don’t think it’s necessarily new. How is a statue of gods in ancient Greece different from creating robots that are stationary or walking around and we imbibe with a sense of self and teachings.
It’s so interesting to think about culturally and anthropologically.
JS: Well, boy, that’s kind of mind blowing because I’m thinking back to when my mom used to take me to church, and I remember being very, very young, like five, six years old, which I’m sure a lot of kids that … Kids that age, they ask questions, they cut the BS and they get through the heart of stuff. And while I’m not saying that religion is BS by any stretch of the imagination, in this case, I was in church with my mom and I remember everybody was going up to a cross and they were kissing the cross and then moving, and it was this lineup of people that were kissing a cross. And I remember asking my mom, I said, well, why are people going up and kissing a piece of wood?
And they said, well, no, it’s a cross. It’s very … And I said, yeah, but it really is just a piece of wood. Why is everybody going up? It’s not a person. It’s not a person that can feel it. It’s just an inanimate object. And she says, yeah, but for what it symbolizes, that’s what we’re practicing, that’s what we’re doing, it’s making us feel better by doing that. And it still never landed with me. So when you mentioned that about statues or something, I’m thinking, yeah, that’s true. We have been doing that forever. It’s symbolic, but we are worshiping inanimate objects, in many cases.
NB: I mean, this is a hugely controversial conversation we’re having. I mean, I just noticed that there was these priests, but where do we go? Every single part of our life is going to be controlled by access to data, which is hopefully going to be democratized, but actually it’s going to be controlled by a few companies that can give you machine learning, robotics, and whatever to make your lives better. So you’re ultimately going to be buying into a life and a lifestyle. And that kind of sets out a bunch of rules that are very similar to what an old school religion could be structured like, whereas this new structure is defined by businessmen and governments and people today that are trying to create almost cult like following in a way.
JS: So corporations, maybe government, they could be controlling religion at a certain point.
NB: Well, if we look at how pervasive social media is and the spreading of good news and bad news and also the fake news, as it were. We’ve got algorithms that are feeding us lots of information and they’re creating momentum behind certain messages. I mean, the Pope’s got a Twitter account. I quite like the Pope right now, he’s a pretty progressive guy, which is good. You’ve got everyone getting on board because these are important platforms to spread the message. Unfortunately, we become shaped by the tools that we create and the message becomes shaped by them as well. So Marshall McLuhan, University of Toronto, the medium is the message. And he said exactly that, we’re shaped by the tools that we create.
JS: Well, yeah, because while one thing might be outrageous, like say Pepper the robotic Buddhist priest in Japan, while we might see videos of that now on nikolasbadminton.com, while we might see that and go, come on that, that’s absurd, the more we see of something like that, the more normalized it gets and the more accepting … or the more we accept that sort of thing.
NB: Yeah. We give them uniforms. They become recognized as having a certain role in society, it’s very much like the clergy. We know … walk down the street, there were police just down the road, you know who a police person is because they’re dressed like the police. So there’s a certain air of authority. So we start to standardize these outfits and put all of the apparel and pomp and circumstance around both people and robotics, and then you bring them together in some sort of organized religion. It seems completely sensible to me.
JS: Is all this automation just inevitable? For those that want to fight it and those who want to say, oh, come on, that’s ridiculous. No, we don’t need data. There’s too much of this, too much of that. Is this wave coming? Is there nothing we can do about it?
NB: Well, we’ve been automating for three industrial revolutions before us. I mean, since since of the late 1700s and the spinning jenny and then the steam locomotive and then the print, the automated printing press, and yada yada yada, all the way through to today where we’ve got self driving cars which are on the cusp of really hitting the streets and a number of other systems around the world that’s running sort of banking processing or whatever using machine learning, we’ve already been on that trajectory now for a couple of hundred years.
JS: Yeah, but would the difference be though that while the locomotive, say, while there is that massive piece of machinery that would be quite productive and helpful, it is man or woman driven. Whereas, like self driving cars, for example, they … Well, I guess, I mean, they could be hacked by … it is people at the root of all this. But now it feels like we’re on the cusp of AI taking, where computers, they can make their own decisions based on what has been fed, to a certain point. It just feels like we’re close to, like the Terminator movies, where we’re just going to lose control.
NB: Yeah. I just want to say, we’re a long, long way from that kind of level of intelligence. They call it artificial general intelligence. That’s a whole sense of consciousness ability, flexibility to do everything that we can do as humans. Some say that we’re careering towards the singularity in like 2042, 2045, or whatever when artificial intelligence and unartificial intelligence becomes intelligent than all of humanity put together. I mean, I still think that that’s very much in the realms of science fiction. I think that we’re in a situation where we have machines and we’ve got algorithms and machine learning systems, artificial intelligence as an umbrella term for that, that we train and that … It literally finds the secrets in the data and uses them. So they’re slightly better, in fact they’re infinitely better than those that aren’t finding that. But we’re still ultimately in control.
We’re not … I never talk about this idea of terminator autonomy, consciousness, nefarious sort of activities that are going to be the downfall of humanity. That’s just not true. Humans still put the business model and they still put the rules around these systems. And it gets ready freaky when you start to look at it autonomous weapons systems and whatever, and that’s where a lot of this fear mongering comes from. But right now, today, we’ve got people in charge.
JS: Ever seen the movie Wall-E?
JS: Do you think that’s going to happen?
NB: It’s inevitable. We’re going to be flying around and 400 pounds each, stuffing our face with the candy.
JS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve seen that movie about 600 times in the past four months, as my kids went, what’s that movie? And I’m like, oh, this movie. And I popped it in, on DVD. I’m an old school. And watch it and I’m watching it over and over again going, are we that far off?
NB: Yeah, we’re a long, long way from that. I mean, that-
JS: Ruining this planet and bailing and just going and flying around.
NB:The planet is in a pretty dire state. The last 250 years, I was just reading a report, we’ve never ever seen as much CO2 in the atmosphere as we’re seeing today. Calamity. I work with the UN and the climate change secretariat. It’s bad.
JS: It’s bad to a point where, I don’t know if you saw the video yet, I haven’t, I’ve only read about it, but Bill Nye just went off.
NB:I saw it.
JS: Did you see it?
NB:Yeah. Rock and roll. That guy’s awesome.
JS: Yeah. He just he went off. He appeared as a guest on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and F bombs left, right, and center, because it’s as if no one’s listening.
NB: Yeah. I watch that program every single week and that program like, laser out. I watched that. I was like, wow. Bill.
JS: You should be on that show.
NB: Yeah, you need to relax.
JS: You need to get on that show?
NB: Who, me?
NB: I’d love to be on that show. My girlfriend would be so stuck.
JS: hen she would be impressed.
NB: Yeah, then she’d be impressed. But Bill Nye is not joking. We are setting the world on fire. I mean, here we are in Toronto. We’re looking out, even even if you look across Canada, and we’re packing people in. What’s interesting is, the cities in the world are going to … they’re growing at an exponential rate. The largest city in the world by 2100 will be in Lagos, Nigeria. And this is based on data from people at University of Toronto looking at city growth. It’s going to be 88.3 million people by 2100.
JS: Wow. Wow.
NB: So 88.3 million people in a metropolitan area, literally living on top of each other, side by side, trying to grow together. Are we going to be in that world that’s the same as Wall-E? Well, quite possibly. And some of those robots are going to become neighborhood gods.
JS: Well, that’s it.
JS: That’s it.
JS: That’s where the technology once again plays a part. And then circling back to the beginning of the conversation with gods and robots.
NB: Yeah. Why do I feel that we’re going to get some backlash on it? No, no, but like-
JS: It could happen.
NB: It could happen. Well, it typically happens.
JS: Are we still searching for boundaries. Do we not know where the lines are?
NB: Yeah, we don’t, we don’t have enough people in this world, in government, in academia, in large business, that are working together around creating ethical boundaries, ethical controls, understanding how this world works together. And I always talk about who we are. We’re humans and we have to put humans in the center of all the solutions that we build. And we shouldn’t put money and efficiency before that. And that-
JS: Well, we are. Yeah.
NB: Companies are. You remove a human from the machine. Everything’s cheaper, everything’s more efficient, ultimately controllable. But it lacks creativity, love, ethical boundaries and the things that really make the world an important place.
JS: Well and even any in terms of climate change and combating and climate change, the first question is, well how much is that going to cost? To fight that, what’s that going to cost us? Well, we’re not doing that.
NB: Yeah, it’s inevitable now. I mean, we’re warming up. I was in South Korea, at a UN conference called Resilience Frontiers. 100 people from all over the world designing resilient futures. You know what? We’re going to hit 2030, it’s going to be 1.5 to two degrees warmer, and we’re going to have to work out how are we going to survive. So that’s what we were doing for a week. We were trying to work out-
JS: That’s not far from now.
NB: No. And the secretary general of the UN is coming in, guns a blazing. I mean, you think Bill Nye is sort of like, got the knuckle dusters on and setting globes on fire, the secretary general of the United Nations is like, he’s holding nothing back now. And they’ve got a lot of sway. I love working with those guys.
JS: So when you do work with them, do you come back hopeful?
NB: I have to. Yeah. I remain hopeful every single day and I try and do my part for the world by … I chat to tens of thousands of people every year and my message is always around, we have to put humans at the center of any solution that we build. We have to put that first. We have to look after the planet because it’s the only one that we’ve got. All of this talk about moving to the moon or Mars and whatever, it’s academic and scientific, and we’re talking about a couple of dozen people, at most, that are literally going to run experiments in the next sort of 50 years.
JS: Right. Well, I’ll be the last one to go up and … Like everyone else has to jump into the pool, because I’m not going in.
NB: I don’t want to live on Mars.
JS: At this point in time, no.
NB: No. Absolutely. No, no. Mars is a horrible place. You really don’t want to go and live there.
JS: But I mean, if everybody at one point was like, you gotta go to the Moon, like, that is the place to be, you gotta … I’m like, everybody else can go first. I’m going to be the last one.
NB: No. I mean, people that are perpetuating that idea, of recol- … We have to move. We have no choice. We’re going to move. Even when the world gets really bad and hot and things are going to change, coastlines are changing and each rising and there’s more catastrophic weather systems, it’s still going to be a million times better than living on the moon. And a trillion times better than living on Mars. It is.
JS: It’s just, for us that have memories of what the world is like today and years ago, it’s going to pale in comparison to the restrictions you might have in living in this world the way it’s going in 20, 30 years. Less than that.
NB: Yeah. I went to an art exhibit the other day at the contemporary art gallery here and there was a really great artist there that did this digital simulation of a future social network. And it was a graveyard. And I’m actually writing an article right now about what would Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, whatever, look like in 300 years. Digital graveyards of tens of billions of people. That’s what it’s going to look like.
NBIsn’t that strange?
JS: That’s freaky. That is really freaky.
NBIt’s super freaky. But this is what I do all day. So that’s why my head’s a little tweaky on occasion.
JS: I can’t even think about this weekend, you’re thinking about 300 years from now. But you do that and I’ll check in with you every once in a while to see what the future is going to be like.
Well, check nikolasbadminton.com. Futurist researcher and keynote speaker, Nikolas Badminton. Always great to see you, man.
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Nikolas Badminton is the CEO of EXPONENTIAL MINDS and an award-winning Futurist Keynote Speaker, researcher and author. His expertise and thought leadership will guide you from complacency to thinking exponentially, planning for longevity, and encouraging a culture of innovation. You will then establish resiliency and abundance in your organization. Please reach out to discuss how he can help you, and read on to see what is happening in the world this week.