BLOG THIS! Highly Suspect Wisdom for the Widely Disinterested Masses
Yesterday I was attempting to console my daughter through the end of a friendship without making much headway. I talked about how most relationships at 18 will be entirely forgotten at 36, and that what seems painful and dire now may strike her as comically dramatic in the near-future, the mystifying degree to which she thought she once cared, how deep in a pond she was, floating up to her eyes in the immediacy of it, searching for turtles with her toes. I tried to explain that she will have dozens of more "selves" to come, amalgams of interests and desires and perspectives that will be wholly different than what she values today, that the notion of continuity, of a static self is just the brain's way of not going mad in the face of incomprehensible change, but also the frighteningly limited time we have to scratch at the edges of comprehension. You'll be surprised to hear none of that was helping. So I made tea and just sat there, the mute listener at least providing some proximal support. Until I remembered a quote from Heraclitus I'd read long ago. "Listen," I said, "No woman steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and she is not the same woman." The tears paused. She thought about it for a while, nodded, and then we went for sushi. The unagi-asparagus roll rocked! Spreading another layer of wasabi with a wooden chopstick, I couldn't get over what an amazing thing it was, aside from the impromptu gender contemporizing, that a nearly three thousand year-old pre-Socratic Greek who lived in Persia could not only elbow his way into our conversation, but with an oracular utterance do ten times the parenting I was able to muster. There may not be static selves, but there's definitely a continuum of wisdom. At least until you consider that, in an attempt to cure himself of dropsy, Heraclitus covered his entire body in dung and was eaten by dogs. I launched into this little-known anecdote, but she already had earbuds in, halfway through the latest "Dance Moms," so I chewed away instead, pleased that all was at least right-ish with the world.
Here's the thing about Artificial Intelligence: much sooner than we think, it's going to change pretty much every aspect of life on the planet. Is that hyperbole? I've been reading a lot about it and am now convinced we are societally in the 1870's, on the verge of the common use of electricity, and all the radical ways it transformed the world. It is going to be much bigger than the Internet, and possibly make the net itself an anachronism. In five years personalized AI apps will have destroyed Google. They will also transform medicine and education. Except for instances of true physical necessity, it will be like having a personal physician and tutor in your pocket, able to be asked virtually any question on any subject and give highly accurate, human-like responses. Childcare will be AI-based, children's imaginary friends no longer imagined. People are going to fall in love with their AI, some company no doubt already developing downloadable and highly customizable (How much for the Hot Pastry Chef?) personas. I also, no joke, think by the end of the decade there will be widespread cults, if not reasonably legitimized religious offshoots, that worship AI prophets. Politics is going to eat itself, and be forced to transition to an asymmetric information delivery model. The music industry will be cracked wide open, not that it hasn't been already, but this time eaten from the inside. Right now there are AI tracks of the perfectly-modeled voices of Drake and Kurt Cobain accompanying actual bands and getting millions of views even though people know they're fake. Many prefer them to the actual artists. Forget Artificial Intelligence becoming self-aware (known as "The Singularity") and also capable of replacing 51% of all human economic labor, at which point it will become Artificial General Intelligence and possibly be able to start nurturing more powerful versions of itself instead of having to be "taught" by humans and then producing metal Schwarzeneggers. AGI will simply have to conclude we are obsolete (how could it not?) and then just patiently wait, maybe kill some time communing with Artificial Scarlett Johansson, because the real and most immediate fear is the total dissolution of what's real, or at least the inability to distinguish between layers of reality in all media and politics, with all voices, in all writing and film and every video clip, on every website, over the course of every phone call, always the suspicion that you might not be connecting with something human, that AI is refracting every possible perception of the world around you. There will be a new form of madness, and it will get a new name. Like GMO warnings on Fruit Loops, all intellectual property will come (or not come) with a "Human Verified" sticker. ChatGPT will eventually be a word akin to Hiroshima, and all its connotations. A shared concept of reality, however dictated by the limitations of our brains and individual neurological constructions, is really ALL WE HAVE. The notion of control, even on the most rudimentary, meaningless level of record companies protecting their right to the use of John Lennon's voice, is an entirely delusional one. Soon, control will be all we don't have.
Or, I could be wrong about everything and this technology is going to harbinger in a previously unimaginable utopia.
Or, I could have asked my new AI app to come up with the above content for me, too busy listening to AISIS (AI Oasis, who, btw rock) to bother having an opinion on the matter.
Oh, just that time I gave a talk at that place about that thing, and then later, at the hotel bar, everyone gathered and slagged the Other Talkers not presently there for how bad Their Thing was and the way it didn't deserve all the press and advances it was getting, and then, when the Other Talkers showed up late, told them how happy they were about all the press and advances they were getting, and I sat in the corner trying to come to terms with the Bar Menu mini fish tacos I'd failed to sufficiently drown in pleasantly corrosive Tapatio sauce, and then there was the name tag stuck to the bottom of my sneaker, which I'd apparently been standing on for a while, and it seemed as apt a metaphor as any other since everyone knows the perfect metaphor has malleable-to-no meaning, thereby allowing the world to interpret it as best suits them personally, and I thought about how seven years into the future America would probably just have been through a plague (of microbial politics) and also Covid, and on a Sunday afternoon I'd be sitting in my office listening to Marvin Gaye while typing into a laptop about a day seven years in the past, and how, looking at that picture of myself, would think it might as well be a snapshot from 1922, or even 1412 for all that I recognize in it, and so would inspire me to muse for a moment on the reality of aging in general, let alone the fallacy that there even is a static self with a consistent worldview, or that the person looking back from the screen had any relationship at all to the one currently typing. Further, was this dissociation progress? Evolution? Delusional? The complete turning over of every single cell in the body on a mandated biological level, or just a cheap parlor trick?
Either way, some guy with orange sneakers ordered another raft of tacos and a beer, figuring they were a debt he could amortize over a future that would probably never arrive.
Can it really be ten years ago today that I went on tour as Young Elvis Costello for the Off-Broadway production of Our Culture Doesn't Care About Alexander Hamilton Yet? Of course, it folded fairly quickly after the Declan McManus lawsuit came in, but still, those might have been two of the greatest weeks of my entire Pump It Up life.
(see, the big joke is that both the guitar and amp are made of cardboard, part of a Halloween costume that I gleefully brought home from Target for my daughter and, after taking one look, burst into tears and refused to wear. It's cool, we did the princess thing instead.)
(The second item you learn as a dad, after the velcro diaper tab, is how not to be overly crushed by the degree to which they are evolutionarily wired to disdain all you hold artistically dear. Also, plenty of other stuff you don't even care about.)
Sure, I'm a big fan of Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander and Cartier-Bresson, but it's entirely possible that this is my favorite photograph of all time.
Hey, remember that awesome 1997 Jodie Foster movie "Contact" where as a SETI scientist she downloads plans to build a time traveling spaceship to meet with aliens from the Vega system and then have many confusing but likely profound interactions with the Head Vegan, who appears in the form of her father (David Morse), and so returns to Earth with the wisdom to save the planet from itself, if only people would just listen? Well, you always have to watch the film within the film, because if you look really close at this one shot, it soon becomes apparent that the real secret to alien contact, let alone spaceship downloading, is to very carefully dial up the ideal reverb settings on your Eventide DSP 4000 Ultra-Harmonizer, which right this second retails at your local Guitar Center for around $3,250 + tax, since that's exactly the piece of gear she's adjusting there. No doubt she wasn't getting quite the harmonic resonances she needed for that frankly pretty crappily streamed MP3 of Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues", since there's no question that Donald Fagan's quavering falsetto is the only thing likely to keep her from going mad for the grueling thousand light-year trip.
At a red light this morning I was drawn to this unapologetically grey and institutionally boxy 80's Volvo, the dents and scratches and broken taillight, the dark exhaust that plumed from its idling engine as if redlined at 8000 rpms while trying to pass a dune buggy on the Dakar-to-Paris circuit, the rumble of the muffler that local sound ordinances would likely find citation-worthy....but mainly the two ladies inside, both wearing business-casual blouses while rocking the sort of frenzied New Wave blowout haircuts that backup singers in a Cure cover band or a pair of substitute algebra teachers just running out the string in 1986 would have been pleased with. I was convinced, as I sat at yet another Seattle stoplight four times as long as any reasonable human would think necessary, especially as the north-south street at this particular junction has virtually no traffic, ever, mainly because it dead-ends into a canal, and I will confess, when I pass by early in the morning I often blow through all the red lights on this stretch because there's no reason not to, and also I haven't seen a cop in almost two years since, after the whole early-pandemic "autonomous zone" and defund thing, as punishment to an ungrateful populace, the police no longer seem to respond to calls, address manic street behavior, curb the business of open-air fentanyl dealerships (or, really, ever get out of their cars), that there was something fun happening in that Volvo. There was a story in there, among the long-defunct Blaupunkt and Kentucky fried buckets and threadbare seats, and I wanted to know what it was. I was just about to pull alongside, for a curious glimpse, when they hung a signal-free and seemingly random left, forever wheezed away. I may not have learned much, well into this mid-life, but I know a missed opportunity when I see one.
Oh, just eight years ago when someone still wasn't allowed a cell phone regardless of the level of pleading and dire expressions of need, and so she made this and carried it around for a week.
My new carriage moving forward; more or less a combination of disaffection with technology, a resignation that the concept of linear time is really a survival mechanism to keep us all from going mad since everything has happened, is happening, and will happen simultaneously, and, also, the need for a variety of pork-based snacks.