It needs to be said; I am scared. Very scared. The more I read, the more I am made even more anxious about the world that I have introduced new life to. Do I have a burden of guilt for giving birth to two wonderful sons, now 17 and 19? I have to say I do, because my nervousness is for them, about them, I am parochial in my state of anxiety. There is a selfishness in the human condition and this is mine, I am far more exercised on behalf of my immediate family than I am on the behalf of humanity as a whole. I lack the humanity of Einstein and Sir Martin Rees and the like, who spend their lifetimes battling with the difficulties of the unknown in the hope that humanity is served. Still they scare me these icons, after listening to a TED lecture given my Sir Martin Rees, I am convinced that our paltry intelligence is at its infancy, and that the future of humankind depends on how that intelligence evolves. I was young once, and in that once we lived in a different universe, one that was explained with alternative pictures and language than the one the scientists describe today. I am still getting my head around the fact that there are as many universes as there are grains of sand, (or is that galaxies? I don’t even know my terms of reference). Then there is the fact that there exists as we speak (as I write) , a website dedicated to the ‘Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence ‘ called the Singularity Institute. ( For an explanation of what they are and do, read an article from the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/revenge-of-the-nerds-should-we-listen-to-futurists-or-are-they-leading-us-towards-lsquonerdocalypsersquo-2073910.html) Suffice to say that these are not fantasists, they are serious scientists looking into the likelihood of seeing the time when technological advance leads to a transformation of the human existence, whether that be by cryogenics or AI. We are moving toward a time when to be human will be substantially different than from any other time in history, because our curiosity led extraordinary examples of our species to find new explanations that have led to new weapons, new power sources, new scientific possibilities to further food production, new methods of communication. Brave New World, you’re in it.
And I cannot piece these fascinating facets of the world I live in with the everyday experience of the world I live in. My world is aeons away from theirs, I am still thinking what to have for tea and how much the car service is going to be on Thursday, remembering the documentary I watched last night where 17 year olds were living alone on less than £10 a day, and having babies. I felt guilty about that too, and happy that my sons lived a different life from theirs, although as a student, not by much. (joke – he is aware of his privilege in having a home to come back to.)
And because I cannot reconcile these two truths, these variants on what life is through the singularity of my own existence, I once again return to the poets, the philosophers. They bring me some sort of solace, that through their wrestling with these weighty questions, I can return to the wisdom of Heraclitus, and to the beauty of art as meaning. Thus I can bring to the table this thought, science and art do go together, one and the other, deciphering meaning in dissimilar ways, but learning about the same craziness of life.
Bryan Appleyard commented on AI here,http://www.bryanappleyard.com/i-extinct-you-robot/
‘In the second machine age, the challenge to the human world is mental rather than physical. As the gadgets become more intimate and the scanners more powerful, it is our inner worlds that are being transformed. Perhaps they are even being destroyed. The perpetual connection and distraction of our lives now are the opposite of Stevens’ solitary thinking time or Dickinson’s isolation in her room. Connectivity is replacing creativity on Facebook and Twitter.’
Henry Miller had this to say and although he was writing much before the advent of our latest technogical wizardry, he had the sense of it,
“The cultural era of Europe, and that includes America, is finished. The next era belongs to the technician; the day of the mind machine is dawning. God pity us!”
“Art is as deep and high and wide as the universe. There is nothing but art, if you look at it properly. It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis……..
………As for that constantly vanishing point called the present, that fulcrum which melts simultaneously into past and future, only those who deal with the eternal know and live in it, acknowledging it to be all.”
( from The Henry Miller Reader)
Henry Miller recalls Heraclitus when he points us to the idea of constant flux, and this is a recurrent preoccupation of poets and artists. It may be a primal response to flux that is engaged when we look at the stars, or feel the pull of the sea, the shifting of the sand. Who can know what is inexplicable? But we don’t stop looking for explanation, demonstration, and now we don’t stop at attempts at creation. Here is one of those poets expressing the constant drive for incessant thought.
The Place of the Solitaires by Wallace Stevens
Let the place of the solitaires
Be a place of perpetual undulation.
Whether it be in mid-sea
On the dark, green water-wheel,
Or on the beaches,
There must be no cessation
Of motion, or of the noise of motion,
The renewal of noise
And manifold continuation
And, most, of the motion of thought
And its restless iteration,
In the place of the solitaires,
Which is to be a place of perpetual undulation.