When I was young, a child, between the ages of five and seventeen, mostly, I was at boarding school. But when I was at home at our family’s rural property – I was frequently outside. I would go on long walks with my dogs, and in summer, I would swim in the brown water of dams and creeks and then haul myself out and lie on the banks in the sun.
When I sank beneath the water, I would hear the voices of the bugs that lived in the brown water. Thousands of invisible bugs. A high-pitched, noise. I couldn’t see them in the water – it was all brown. So I would close my eyes and sink. The top of the water was warm down to about fifteen centimetres, after which it got progressively cooler until where I buried my toes in the thick clay far beneath was cold. And then I would come up for air – and the noise would be gone, and my eyes would drink in the blue sky, and I would return to the smells of the bush.
Two worlds, three worlds, a hundred worlds. There have always been many. The ones that exist in our head, in reality, in space, on top of mountains, and in the depths of oceans. And now we are creating even more layers into virtually every space and no space at all. And in no space at all, that is where the largest and potentially scariest world is being created.
We choose to enter this world when we open a podcast, a Utube video, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or WordPress – the voices of thousands reach us. Then we come up for air, and it is only the sounds of birds, the sprinkler, and the smell of that cake cooking that we left in the oven.
I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast whilst out walking this morning. It was about Artificial Intelligence and the implications that these programs have for human life both now (because it is already occurring) and in the future.
I’ve been playing around with AI art lately and have found the application that I use to be whimsical and charming. However I’m aware that there are serious implications for the ease with which a program can generate unique artwork.
The podcast disturbed me. Artificial or not, this intelligence is far greater than our own. It can absorb massive amounts of data, never forgets and, while at the moment tenuous human guardrails hold it in check – it is more than capable of busting out of those constraints and will do so, is doing so, already.
It also has zero emotion.
Emotion is what drives the human world. It is also what prevents us from achieving anything of worth at times. Emotion – our own – controls, empowers, compels and restricts us. Imagine a world where we did not fear shame or even fear itself. What would we be capable of?
That is what we are heading into every time we open our screens. A world where emotional beings will eventually be outgunned by a machine that is incapable of feeling and, therefore, incapable of being controlled – by emotion.
Except in the real world. Because a computer is a fish out of water in nature. But for humans, it is our ancestral domain. We can still touch a tree and know that it is a tree. Swim in the ocean and know this is the ocean. Lie on the warm sand and stare into a vast and constantly changing sky.
These things comfort me; more than that, they have the power to regenerate me. We are primordially attached to the umbilical cord of nature. We need it even though many have forgotten this is so.
Humans will increasingly struggle in the computerised world, virtual reality will become even more twisted and warped. We will not know what is true or not. But a computer cannot survive without a power source. And our power source is the antithesis of what a computer requires.
I close my eyes. And I am a child, sinking below the brown water of the creek. I can hear a thousand bugs shrieking in my ears, but when I rise again, there is nothing but stillness and the smell of autumn arriving on a southerly breeze.
Header Picture: AI art generated from “primordial human nature swimming”. As with all these images, I stare at them, fascinated by the interpretations that a machine comes up with and which my mind then wants to play.
The way the human form is emerging from the amphibian in this artwork is complex and surprising. But of course we did. We were once no more noteworthy than a frog .
Our sheer resilience as a life form, our constant evolution. Are all these years of intelligent diversification going to end in the dumbest possible way? Surely not.
There are certainly monsters where we choose to swim. But it is our choice to swim there. We can always come up for air, turn off the screen, and walk away. For now at least.