In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.
But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?
I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?
Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.
We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.
When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.
As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.
Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.