Technology will replace science and is today's universal religion, says Rustum Roy, a materials scientist at Pennsylvania State University. It is one of the most "profoundly penetrating" forces the world has ever seen, and its "price tag" is often well hidden.
Information technologists at the "Science and Spiritual Quest" conference last month in Berkeley, Calif., seemed to corroborate his words. Computing, they say, represents a transformation of our understanding of the world. We don't yet know what information is, although today's culture is based on it.
A mathematical model of information now exists, however, that shows us the world can be defined in terms other than the physical, says Mitchell Marcus, of the University of Pennsylvania.
But artificial intelligence, simulation, and virtual reality raise fundamental issues. What does it mean to be human? Who is responsible for the actions of robots? How will long-term exposure to these worlds affect the sense of self?
Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine says a third culture has emerged apart from science and the humanities - a technologist culture, which is in the ascendancy and which raises profound theological questions. "[The technologists'] way of exploring the idea of mind is to create it," Mr. Kelly says, "and they share an outlook ... about an entity called god that is different from classic notions of God." Is this simply completing creation, or is it blasphemy, or hubris? Kelly wonders.