A Timid Romance With Science Fiction:
~ Designing Our Virtual DNA ~ Perpetrators of Evolution ~ Authoring our Demotion ~
This essay follows in the tradition of mid-afternoon musings, where thoughts float drowsily down the river of post-lunch digestion. If ye seek linearity, resolution of ideas introduced, and the tidiness of well-formed arguments—then go no further. Expert in nothing, day-dreamer of much, I can do no more than skip my stone across the pond of technology and produce a series of concentric ripples. I used to be optimistic about our place in the future. Today, I am not. The ideas I lay out deal with the evolution of technology, are mostly ruminative, and I approach the topic with a mixture of dread and amusement. For—without amusement, I think I would cry.
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A friend of mine shared a story. His buddy has a son, and this son is rather intelligent. He doesn’t, however, do his homework and this reduces his academic standing when it comes to grades. One day, using virtual reality, the son designed an office with desks and bookshelves, a place for him to go, built in binary and orchestrated by sophisticated electronics. Now, this son puts on his headset and goes about his homework inside a virtual studio. He has become a better student because he has become better at doing his homework. Thank you Virtual Reality. Several thoughts come immediately to mind, but for now let us avoid well-meaning critiques on parenting and stay focused on the notion of virtual reality. Following that, with your indulgence, I’d like to explore several other futuristic anxieties.
The implications of this kid carving out academic success in computer coding are revelatory, as I’m sure it is to anyone, who like me, hasn’t embraced fully the world of technology. “That’s extraordinary!” I declared. Anxiety too. There are large questions at play—mainly because the possibilities are endless. There is no limit to the world of virtual reality other than imagination, and one is left wondering what does this look like? The entire ethical range, good to bad, immediately burdens the conscience. We can tour the Sistine Chapel from our living room. The catacombs of Rome. Wander the stark, otherworldly beauty of Socotra. The Library of Alexandria? Would someone like to drift through an archeological dig? How about float down the anthropological tree of evolution for the last three million years? As the internet already suggests, no tool for learning is denied us. But as the internet also suggests, people’s reptilian impulses will have their strong say. The eventual combining of virtual reality, with its flawless visual and aural experience, along with something like nano-bot skin suits or any such device that can provide the sensation of touch to corroborate an experience, will become an environment as real or even more so than our current one. But what does this mean? What does this look like? Certainly, no erotic fetish is outside the programmable. What is your pleasure? And it can be more sinister than that. One could act a murder out in the virtual chamber of this parallel universe, and, to the central nervous system, the event would be indistinguishable from the real thing. But… we could also go to a distant star, skim the surface of an event horizon—shrink ourselves so small, we could encroach upon the quantum dust that weaves together the underlying fabric of our near metaphysical foundation. These musings, of course, are not terribly original. Storytelling has wrestled with this for quite some time. Apologies, apologies for originality’s lack.
This piece from 2018 was an effort to organize thoughts and ideas for a novel about a painter who abandoned his art. In its place, he pursued a conventional family life that ultimately failed to extinguish his creative urge.
Confined by a troubled marriage, he is one day confronted by his muse, flesh and blood, when she boards the Boston metro. Witness to his talent, she is intrigued, and invites him to paint her. The artist succumbs to her enticements and discovers that her intellect exceeds her beauty which is formidable. The muse, it turns out, is a leading scientist and linguist designing artificial consciousness to replace humanity's apex status in the universe.
A FICTION NEST
~Stretching the Universe into our Minds ~
I think of fiction as the essential (or ancient) science, since the process of fiction performs a thought experiment. Force upon the protagonist a certain premise, use conflict and interference to see how things work out. Answer: Any number of outcomes. We have been doing this for a long time. And science fiction is conjoined to hubris. We presume a vision of the future, something not knowable until it comes, and aspire to create a believable account. If one truly wants to side on arrogance, then we not only create the account, but also insist the audience take it seriously. Look. Beware. A cautionary tale. Science fiction is fat with dystopian visions of humanity and technology becoming incompatible.
We have two types of science fiction, which is terribly reductive, but for the sake of simplicity, I will stick to this for now. There is the re-imagining of old folktales and mythologies. These stories might use the future as their canvas, but they really are a kind of story that has been with us for a long time. Take for a universal example, Star Wars, which is as much magical fantasy as it is science fiction. Then, there is the evolutionary science fiction which looks at current trajectories or vectors, identifies problems or concerns, and extrapolates from them very serious issues that might arise. These are perhaps more like two nodes on the opposite ends of a selfsame spectrum; fairytale versus future tale, mythology versus evolution. And all science fiction is a blend of the two—we still have to tell a good story and there are deep structures to that—but the ratios can be quite different. To take another universal example, Star Trek is the kind of science fiction that seeks to extrapolate a real future. It is of the evolutionary type. It asks the question: What does humanity look like if we get our act together, not destroy the planet, and unite in a common cause. The answer to their premise is: We cluster in starships and launch out in unlimited exploration. It seems the accumulation of knowledge is a satisfactory end to the means of overcoming species-suicide. Star Trek obviously has much of the fairytale in it too—ancient human crises are replayed by warring galactic polities populated by surprisingly hominid creatures—but I think it gets one very important thing right. We do seem to be inexhaustible in our need to increase understanding. To grow our consciousness. For example, we observe with other animals, vast migrations predicated on seasonal changes and mating patterns and food supplies. They run on their instincts: food and sex. Animals will go great distances for these. But humans are unique. We are the only animal to have authored migration events motivated by thoughts and ideas. We will go extraordinary distances to carry them. Just to know that the Pacific islands were populated by an ancient rafting diaspora, long before European sails and keels dropped their anchors, demonstrates our relentless need to explore, to travel great distances in a dangerous world for the sake of sharing, trading, or simply expanding ideas. And we can go back further than even that. Much further.
I would like to take a moment and ask the question: What is more real, our current reality or a virtual one? I only ask, because my first impulse is to deny an equal validity to the virtual. However, if I spend just five minutes pondering the question with any seriousness, I become quite unsure. For instance, the number five does not exist in nature. Apples do. And there can be five of them. But the number is an abstraction, as all numbers are, and they are the linguistic building blocks to math which is something I think hardly anyone would say is not real. Mathematics is so powerful, it can alter reality. It has. It has hurtled the soft body of a mammal to the moon, landed it, and then returned it to us. Mathematics has the ability to foresee. It announces the presence of subatomic matter before we have the means to observe its existence. This is powerful stuff. I think again of the son who will not do his homework until he designs a studio in virtual space—or, shall we say, a mathematical one. An observer might take momentary comfort in the notion that it is just a child putting on a clumsy piece of headgear, gloves, and like a metaphysical conductor, wags his hands and wiggles his fingers in a goofy dance in a quiet room. One might find her anxiety lessened by the comedy of the spectacle. But here before us, we are witnessing evolution and this moment is something of a conception. The fertilized egg divides in two, then splits into four cells, then eight, sixteen, and so on. But it does not do this for the entire nine months because at that doubling rate, the newborn would be larger than the observable universe come time of birth. The point being, conceptions can be somewhat explosive, the rapidity most overwhelming when we are least prepared to handle it. I beg of the reader to slip inside her imagination and ponder the true extremity of its breadth and scope. Because, the technology to bring this imagination to life in virtual reality, in a way every bit as real as our world, is an inevitable proposition. Our central nervous system will carry on doing its job, and as soon as technology can embody us in a virtual domain to the point where our central nervous system is unable to distinguish the difference between that one and this one, the only difference will be the boundary of imagination.
This brings us deeper into the nest of science fiction and why we ought to pay attention to it. Our hero is a twenty-eight-year-old woman in the near-future who emerges from an impoverished childhood into the academic elevator of excellence, achieving status in society by becoming a doctor. More than that, she has pioneered a revolutionary approach to the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Let us also say, she competes in triathlons and along the way has opened a successful and growing online nutrition and fitness business. The world sees a compelling personality, charismatic, she easily gains others’ admiration for her high level of professional competence, her likability, and charitable nature. This is a person rocketing up the hierarchy of success and is admired in the process. And on her own time she clasps her body into a nano-skin suit and enters a private virtual domain so that she can pick up her thirteen-year-old boyfriend and take him to a movie. Technically, no one is being hurt, but she knows if this ever got out it could ruin everything. Going back to the notion, that fiction is the thought experiment where we get to ask any question we want, I believe one of the most important questions we need to be answering is one of the near future. Very often, our best, most intelligent science fiction is of this type. If it truly is a moment of conception, then Now will be instrumentally more important than twenty-five years from now.
The near future
~Writing My Own DNA ~
There’s a story somewhere inside here—and we mustn’t assume that a virtual reality won’t be like this one, rubbing elbows with each other. I lay awake in bed at night, restless, unable to sleep, and find my way to the living room between midnight and one. In the dark, I pull out the smartphone and begin scrolling down the digital corridor while a very large and powerful company memorializes every single click, link, and query. Without a second thought, complicit even, I am designing my virtual identity. I bemoan the way a company wants to lock a customer into their product, to become a sole-source provider for our digital universe. But this corporate drive is understandable. Rational even. Walmart wants their shoppers to come back. Bank of America wants me to apply for a loan now that I have an account with them. This is business as usual. But when it comes to social media and internet search engines, the stakes appear to be much higher. My smartphone, or more accurately the company behind it, wants my monogamy to them while they live in polygamy with everyone else. They’d like to manage my purchases, my info seeking, my music and entertainment. They want to be the tool where I channel my finances and make vacation reservations. Essentially, they want to be the hourglass’s bottleneck where all my sand (data) runs through. Let us step aside a moment from remarking cynically upon this, because from a practical point of view, it makes sense. If Dunkin Donuts had a way to make me eat there every day, they too would drive at that arrangement. But we must ask ourselves what this truly means. What are the stakes? What would the science fiction writer like to explore in this premise?
Certainly, I am not posing new questions, these have been asked for quite some time. They have been asked by more able thinkers with greater clarity of focus. At this phase, the more interesting question is, why have we not paid more attention? For the last three-and-a-half billion years, life on earth has undergone a miraculous process of evolution starting in relative simplicity, and then through processes of experimentation and failure on a Shakespearian scale, arrived at today’s unmeasurable complexity. The greatest drama to ever unfold—is still unfolding—and its greatest achievements are yet to come. But the coding behind it all, DNA, has been tinkering and tinkered upon for a very long time. Think about it, three-and-a-half billion years if we’re to believe our scientists. Let’s be generous and grant them a plus-minus half-a-billion margin of error. The point still stands. My very presence is a magnum opus in successes winning out over failures, just enough, so that a strange enigmatic string of genetic empiricism connects me back to the “primordial ooze.” To try and frame this in any meaningful way borders on the absurd. It is beyond stunning.
Another interesting question becomes: Who owns my DNA? The reason I find myself having to ask this is because it appears we are living in the age where we are handing it over. I will resist getting sucked into the morass of totalitarian Artificial Intelligence machines taking over the world. That field is already deeply veined in literature and shows, and we find ourselves the foggier for it. But I am fascinated by the notion that every one of us at this moment is writing the code to his or her own virtual DNA. I do it as I write this. You do it as you read this. Every second spent paddling our gondola through the waters of the internet is another second creating a shadow self forming in the cloud. That shadow self is knitting together with such staggering speed that we really have no historical analogue for guidance. What the heretofore observed processes of evolution took billions of years to do in designing us, we are doing ourselves in the virtual domain within a generation or two. On a cosmological scale, we could very well be living inside the fusion moment of evolutionary consciousness. This moment is just before the two hydrogen isotopes touch.
One of the gloomier thoughts is the scenario of stepping into a virtual universe every bit as embodied and perceived as our current one, only to discover that Google owns my DNA. Or Apple. Or… whomever it pleases you to impugn with your gloomy thoughts. But it is a universe of corporate city-states, so to speak, and our fealty to certain companies is well underway. I shall enter the virtual economy where wonders and bedazzlement await, but subject-citizen to an algorithmic empire that has been forming since the days of AltaVista and is now in total possession of my identity. And in what previous epoch has humanity been so enforced to fealty than one where my city-state knows so much about me, there is literally nothing left not to know? What does rebellion look like in this universe? To think is to be an informant on oneself. It is the condition of nakedness surpassed. But we press on, and one truly wishes that this parallel reality had more substance, for then as we go to work, we might look up and see all those neural trains criss-crossing the sky, leaving their steam-trails, carrying their steel to construct this virtual reality. At least in metaphor, we can sculpt a picture. The blue sky would be scissored apart with those ugly train lines, as if a first-grader was hotheadedly failing at his paper snowflake during art class. Being visual animals, perhaps then we’d feel the anxiety of handing over our Virtual Reality proto-DNA to large companies who more than likely understand that this is already going on. When Facebook sits down with the Federal government and helps write the rulebook, one’s optimism is not increased. It’s not that we need to be more aware of the virtual universe that is around the bend. It’s that it is already synaptically connecting together as we speak, is already very far along, and we are deeply engaged in authoring its inhabitants. Who owns my DNA? Well, I’m sure it’s spread all over the cloud, in the act of being collected by very powerful companies.
We Are Mapping Everything For Them
~Love is Love, N'est-ce Pas? ~
I’ll pick up with a second story. A co-worker recently described how the company is mapping its assets. Large reservoirs tend to create unnaturally complex shapes. This makes sense when one considers their human origins. Water doesn’t like getting trapped and one form of evidence is the generally rounder shape of a natural lake as opposed to a reservoir—something like smooth potatoes versus an amoeba. See, unless water has a very good reason to become trapped, it won’t. Building a dam just backs it up into a valley that water already does a good job thundering out of. This gives reservoirs their often neural, almost fractal shape. All this is just to say, when one wants to know how much water is stored in a reservoir—really know—how does one come up with a precise number? According to the co-worker, bounce a laser off every square-foot of surface when the reservoir is drained until a perfect digital replica is in our possession. Then, when water is restored, no matter the level, we will know exactly how much water is in it down to the half-gallon. And there’s more. We’re mapping facility structures, capturing virtual records of rooms that memorialize every inch of conduit, garage door pulley, light switch, ventilation screen and so on. This too produced the awe, or even reverence, that a technology firmly beyond my competence tends to do. None of this is news. We have been bouncing signals off any willing Newtonian participant in our increasingly orgiastic disco-ball for quite some time. It’s just that, the refinement of it has moved beyond the breathtaking. We are furiously uploading our planet.
I’m afraid my read on the future gets fairly dark for precisely the reason I share Gene Roddenberry’s optimism in humanity’s ability to get its act together. I do not have a bleak picture of us, I’m rather compassionate here, for it seems we do our best to struggle on in a universe that shares no particular fondness in helping us succeed. I do think we’ll navigate atomic fusion, and I do think we’ll rise to the complexity of the climate, and I do think we’ll continue to rebuff ideological fanaticism, and I do think we’ll persist in the face of upcoming contagions, and so on. Of course, none of these ought to be passed over in a flip manner, for they are serious. They are, however, simply not my subject of exploration.
Rather, I’d like to ask a question that goes beyond the universe of virtual reality, a technology that qualifies as a tool, and deals with our demotion among the beasts of nature. Our relationship with technology has always involved a singular quality. The utilitarian arrangement has a uni-directional hierarchy. I make eggs, I choose spatula. Spatula does not choose me. (I suppose I leave some philosophical doors open; it’s entirely conceivable the mustache did in fact chose Dali, and… is facial hair a tool?). But today’s cutting-edge technology is still a tool, coming from a long line of tools, and despite the sophistication of AI systems and neural networks and 3-D imaging, they are, none of them, yet sentient and ready to unleash the robot rebellion. Anyway, I’m less interested in reliable tropes and more interested in treating these things as evolving matters of fact. AI is a very, very serious thing, and we must take it very, very seriously because we hand off so much decision-making to it—but being grounded is also important. Let’s take note, for example, that the path toward AI goes back further, much further, than computers. Something of a proto-intelligence has been sequencing itself inside the games we’ve created throughout the centuries. A deck of cards cannot think, but imposed upon by the rules of solitaire, it becomes a formidable opponent. No one believes the queen of hearts will come to life and paper-slit our throat, but even here, the imposition of a simple set of rules can show us the way towards authoring increasingly complex schemes within defined networks. These days, our “deck of cards” are much more sophisticated. They aren’t just following rules, they are students of pattern and are learning new things all the time. Yet even at this moment, the hazards of AI and the phenomenon of creating an artificial consciousness do not necessarily mean the same thing. My question is this: What happens when something technological becomes independent? From us?
I suppose independence means achieving consciousness. And—what does this look like? It evolved in us over a very long, intricate, violent, and rigorously creative process. I view the matter of human-made consciousness as an inevitability, which probably pits me against some, but outside of species-suicide or meteor-induced extinction the proposition feels as inevitable as the sun rising in the east. Why? Because my Spidey-sense is tingling—but, so as not to abuse my reader, I will say this: That it seems to me we are capable of making things we do not fully understand. I don’t know that understanding exactly what consciousness is, is absolutely necessary to the expertise needed in making the sort of thing where it can exist. So, to explore that notion, we must make a distinction in terminology, because I don’t think AI, artificial intelligence, is an accurate way to bracket the notion of humans creating consciousness. I find the term “simulated intelligence” makes more sense, because it places an emphasis on the inspiration for modeling, as opposed to the various mechanisms that might contribute to it. I make this distinction because we must address the reality that for humans to author some kind of consciousness, they would first need to locate a model.
There seems to be an obvious choice here. The stories of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Hal in 2001, and Ava from Ex Machina are really not at all unlike each other. We’re exploring whether these non-humans can handle some version of the Turing test, become human, and more than that, it often appears we want them to be our friends. Actually, that’s the deeper truth. Literature gives us characters that pass the Turing test all the time—but developing friendships with them is problematic at best. For every child who sees the humanity in a machine, there’s usually more grownups who don’t. There’s a common thread here. We want them to be like us. We want to chum about, do parkour, high-five, play solitaire side by side, get romantic, go for walks in Central Park and kiss after dusk. Obi Wan was fooling you when he said, “He’s more machine than man.” That’s not the case, it never has been. The machine is always more about the “man” in it. Us. We. You and I. We are the model, and we’ll use our supreme example to inspire us toward the vessel that can house a conscious mind. The point to all this is to say that creating consciousness means creating a body. And that is what we will have to do, and to me, that appears much more realistic than conjuring celestial notions of what consciousness is and is not and how this mystical fume can be finely-homogenized into sentient gas-bots.
One thing we are in a poor position to do, is speculate what that body will look like. We do make robots. We are getting better at making them all the time. But, perhaps it will not even occur within the robot. The obviousness of consciousness creation, as a product of evolution, is far greater than the certainty of form. Body and form don’t strike me as tightly, logically linked manifestations. Are there patterns? Sure. Legs are a useful body pattern. Lots of organisms have them. But form? Starfishes and ostriches have legs, but here we see how varietal a pattern can be. What will it look like? When will it come? One does not know, but it feels soon. Around the corner. In my lifetime? I don’t know. I’m doing the open-lipped, teeth-clenched, high-pitched grimace of uncertainty. “Probably not?” But who can really say, until the woman responsible for it, holds a press conference and announces with fanfare our greatest leap forward. Artificial Consciousness! What exactly will she describe? A biped? Quadruped? an avian spaghetti bundle? Perhaps we wake up tomorrow and consciousness has emerged in a yuge way, its form engulfing everything from the Mississippi River to the Eastern seaboard—a partial-planet event. Despite our dread, we are pleased to at least find out that Donald Trump has become little more than a clogged pore within this continental awakening.
Unleashing Our Superiors
~It's Not You, It's Me ~
What strikes me as dark regarding my intuition about the future is this sense that we are capable of building things before we can be bothered to understand them. With simulated intelligence, we naturally would strive to model something after ourselves. And the circuitry, so to speak, will be far superior than what biology took billions of years to do. We’ll build it before we understand it and then, having produced a kind of artificial central nervous system, and a corresponding body fully able to interact with the universe, evolution will pick up the task of providing self-awareness, curiosity, and point-of-view; and then, the being is become something we no longer make. It is its own thing, and of such purified potential standing within the complex structure of nature’s cutting-edge body, that it will shed itself of its creators and take over the role of apex creature. I retreat from the word predator, because it evokes the reptilian response and our hackles go up. But is it not so? Our fear? Aren’t our fictional Turing-test subjects for hundreds of years really more about this question: Will we be able to get along with them? Deep inside, We’ve known about this and have been wrestling with it. Humans are not the endgame in evolution. We are a stage. And the concept of an enlightened predator who sits above us offers very little comfort. We know. We’ve seen the world from this view.
But, why must it be like this? Can we not hybridize ourselves with technology and enhance our natural characteristics? Compensate for deficiencies? Certainly. And I’ve no doubt we will. In fact—we already do. And who doesn’t see the attraction to our Tony Starks and Alex Murphys? Could this not be a way to protect ourselves against the competition? Well, to answer this, I will resort to a crude analogy even though they’re fraught with devastating effectiveness while cowering behind specious logic. Nevertheless, if you will permit: Think of Bud Light. And think of Chateau Lafite. The Bud Light, a serviceable alcohol, has through hard work and determination made a superior alcohol. Chateau Lafite. And, along the way, the Bud Light has learned much in its process of creating the Chateau Lafite. In fact, in many ways, the Bud Light has had to include bits and pieces of Chateau Lafite into itself in order to create, in another bottle, the final, purified Chateau Lafite. And one day following, the Bud Light realizes: I am not Chateau Lafite—which is superior, has a more pleasing flavor, better legs, and other such snobbery. “But, if I only add more Chateau Lafite into myself, I will continue to elevate my value.” We see where this goes. In the end, one of the bottles will always be held back by the Bud Light. This is a quasi-snarky way of saying that a hybrid of the flesh and technology will in some way always be regulated by the flesh—until the time that there is no flesh.
So, whose business is it to truly explore space? Truly, really, truly? Star Trek presented a narrative where we flew around the galaxy in starships faster than light speed, but hadn’t quite figured out cellphones yet. This indicates our imagination is bad at understanding what we’re actually better at creating. And Gene is no dullard. Any science fiction that predicts technology is exposed for its errors as soon as the present ebbs at it. Perhaps we need to come to terms with the possibility that we are more geared, more talented, toward fashioning a simulated intelligence, consciousness, than spaceships, warp drives, and galactic empires. The terrain is different. Maybe inhabiting space does not fold out before us the same way the Earth did. Evolution crafted a brilliant cerebral cortex embodied in a sublime, lithe, bipedal Ferrari that was destined to swim the English channel and climb Everest. But it is entirely unfit for mostly empty space. This void pushes against our corporeal limitations, but on the other hand, who says that the next superior beings, created by us and then separated from us, are not the perfect animals. To put it clumsily: Maybe it really is the business of robots to take over, what, with their toweringly superior cognitive abilities, social structures, procreative cycles, and lifespans fit for immense distances. Perhaps it is time for humanity to face its own mortality.
It Does Not Mean the End
~ Let Us Retire to Our Brandy and Cigars ~
Stepping into the virtual universe where I suddenly discover Google owns my digital chromosomes is made less depressing when I realize that they are just a middling drama inside a larger drama, and in the end, we both lose primacy. Who is the big winner? Well, we could say SI. But is it? Really? I think in the end it’s evolution, something so stunningly obvious in its procedural display that we ought to think about it another way. The lack of evolution is literally something we have never observed. Never. When reversed into that frame, it’s almost hard to understand how humans got into the biblical pickle of a cloud-author zotting zebras onto the prairie and those zebras remaining unchanged from beginning of time to the end, every birth providing another unique variant of a zebra. Somehow after many, many births, the median zebra “type” remained identical while every zebra that ever lived was unique. The logic of this is our best-man at the wedding who drank too much the night before and locked his knees during the ceremony. It topples under its own shaky stance. But we can forgive our ancestors, because we’ll need it too from those who are yet to come.
Evolution will have it’s say, and science fiction is still a very useful tool to help us face the perils of our mortality. I truly do believe that storytelling is a form of science, if even the softest, and it’s the field of study we have engaged in the longest. It can take on all comers. All questions. The final one of which I’ll leave with: Why build it? Why make the embodied intelligence which is the coup d’etat to our lofty position?
Why go to the moon? Why climb Everest? Because it is hard. Because they are there. Because these answers do not satisfy reason but yet they are correct. Designing consciousness is a thing that is “hard” and “there”—an achievable goal of the highest accomplishment. We—humans—are not a reasonable proposition. Reason is simply one of the tools in our crowded bag of psychological tools, and alas, we have deeper urges. If creating the most sophisticated thing humans have ever designed—for instance, a technology that can walk away from us—if creating that comes with the peril of self-sacrifice, then being the vain creatures we are, we’d slit our own wrists to give life to our child. It’s not vanity versus sanity. It’s that we operate as if the insanity occurs when we don’t pursue our deepest vanities.
There is no compelling reason to believe that humanity’s child would favor wiping out its parent. With the child’s greater abilities and intelligence, its reach would be farther and its ambitions informed by cognitive features beyond our own. But—this is speculation. On one level, we might be so inferior to an evolving SI life-form that we’re little more than bacteria on its buttocks. Squashing us could be accidental. The genocide of humanity an innocent mistake. Or not. We have hope, another tool from the human bag of urges. And while hope is not a strategy, it does give flight to imagination where curiosity is home. As a lesser creature in the cosmos, there are still things to busy us about. We can continue to tell stories. Perhaps there’s a slight relief of burden in not having to keep the torch lit at the top of the predator pyramid. Who can say?
I’m afraid Ive done little better than revisit human anxieties that have been around for hundreds of years. Then what the hell has all this been for? Perhaps it’s the cosmic dread. Large forces do their thing, and I’m just sort of in the way. Here, it’s the powerlessness thats so de-motivating, powerlessness to our own urges. What is one to do? I believe in a universe that is so infinitely cellular, and each cell is determined to perform its course, that in the face of their conflicting totalities, I am in no position to save myself. I can, however, revert to the fairytale science fiction and revisit old mythologies. I always liked Han Solo, he was my favorite as a kid. But I’m older now, and I have young boys to raise. And Luke, for all his whining, is really my guy. I admire that streak of being just dumb enough to join the cause, to see good and evil clearly, and annoy everyone while stubbornly in pursuit of redeeming others. There’s something alluring, maybe even ennobling, about picking up the sword and actually believing one has a say. I’m not sure there’s much difference between a sword and a word other than that piddly little letter. Words and weapons! I am “identity” as much as “body,” and all it takes is a well-placed, devastating noun to slay my ego. The game is sharp. The universe is dangerous.
Besides, there’s the temptation to see it all happen—that moment of conception where we relinquished primacy to another being. Just to see it, and know, I was there. Because—sometimes, there’s bliss in surrender. Our ancients in Africa were surrounded by a mysterious threatening world of predators, landscapes, weather patterns, and they were without our modern tools and methods of interpretation. They were smart, no doubt about it, armed with familiar brains, similar bodies. But they did not have our methodologies, our massive civilizational foundation of inherited wisdom and knowledge. Yet, these women and men picked up their things and pressed out into the unknown. They made their garden, they took nature and enforced upon it a human order. As agents of the universe’s supreme intelligence, they acted out their role transforming themselves into exquisite builders, designers, and makers. Having achieved the highest level of authorship, they lay the foundation for a consciousness greater than their own. Even if we’re burned by the blast radius of our child who leaves the nest, the remains of humanity will carry on. They will still do things, and do them well—just not as well as those other more competent species that will color the cosmos with their exploration and settlement. And in the meantime, there’s still stories to tell. Like—two of them. Or, maybe three. However many it is, I’m certain we will at least find some of them in our parallel universe of virtual reality.