The AtlanticThe Atlantic

The monk who thinks the world is ending

By Annie Lowrey

25 Jun 2023 · 13 min read

informed Summary

  1. Soryu Forall, a monk ordained in the Zen Buddhist tradition, founded the Monastic Academy for the Preservation of Life on Earth (MAPLE) in Vermont, where residents meditate on AI and existential risk. Forall believes that artificial superintelligence could potentially destroy humanity.

The monk paces the Zendo, forecasting the end of the world.

Soryu Forall, ordained in the Zen Buddhist tradition, is speaking to the two dozen residents of the monastery he founded a decade ago in Vermont’s far north. Bald, slight, and incandescent with intensity, he provides a sweep of human history. Seventy thousand years ago, a cognitive revolution allowed Homo sapiens to communicate in story—to construct narratives, to make art, to conceive of god. Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha lived, and some humans began to touch enlightenment, he says—to move beyond narrative, to break free from ignorance. Three hundred years ago, the scientific and industrial revolutions ushered in the beginning of the “utter decimation of life on this planet.”

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