Are we Losing our Grip on Reality?

matrix-434035_1280For some time now, I have felt increasing levels of horror as I watched technological developments reflected in movies like Her or Ex Machina. All the while, most people around me seem to bleat in unison about the wonders of artificial intelligence (AI).

At the risk of being deemed old-fashioned and unpopular, I do not share such unbridled enthusiasm. And here is why.

In the movie Her, there is a scene that made my hairs stand on end, as a somber prediction of a possible future to come. The main character walks out of the subway, talking to his “female” operating system, completely oblivious to the world around him. He sits down on the stairs, heart-broken, in the midst of a lovers’ argument with his AI.

That’s bad enough, but here comes the piece that really disturbed me: in the background, an almost unnoticeable stream of people walk up and down the stairs, each of them fully absorbed in a conversation with their personal AI friend…

We writers know there is a fine line between fiction and reality, and that science-fiction is nothing but a possible future in manifest. To borrow a line from the Sage in The Heart of the Labyrinth, “anything you can think, you can experience. There are no limits.”

And I for one, would hate to live in a world, where we no longer know how to talk to each other. Where we reel at the prospect of being face-to-face with another human being. Where we have forgotten what it feels like to look a stranger in the eye…

A world in which we retreat to the safety of talking to a machine that has been programmed to comply with our expectations, and fulfill our conditioned longings. A setting where we are not challenged to evolve beyond our fears and limitations. Where we move further and further away from our potential as human beings.

The end of reality?

So, how far are we today, on the possible path towards such a world? How much of our time and energy do we already spend interfacing with machines – be they intelligent or not? How much time do we spend face-to-face with real sentient beings? Fully present to another human, animal, or plant?

How curious that a game, which overlays a virtual reality over our every day environment, is capable of sucking in the attention of millions of people? How can it be more interesting to spot a Pokemon in your parking lot, rather than a lone flower blooming through a crack in the pavement?

Some people say that we have reached the end of reality. I would argue that reality is what we make it.

The virtual world is nothing but another projection of our mind. A new layer of our collective imagination that we have “materialized” on a mass scale. We humans are pretty good at believing that our projections are real. Nothing new on that front!

What is new is that this presents yet another opportunity for us to lose ourselves, to distract our attention, and move further and further away from our essence.

A renewed opportunity for true presence?

I can only hope that the more extreme it gets, the more this exact setting will make it easier for us to understand that all of it is just a projection of our minds. Something we can drop, at any moment.

So that we may come back to our center. So that we may go back up-stream – as my friend Lama Dominique would say – against the currents of our conditioning. Experience life beyond the blurred boundaries of the virtual and the real…

And become truly present.

  5 comments for “Are we Losing our Grip on Reality?

  1. August 18, 2016 at 11:40

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it truly resonated in me. To look into a strangers eye, to discover the flower in the parking lot, to be with a sentient being – presence. It is interesting what humankind is developing through technology, which is in a way preventing the true fulfillment of a very basic need humankind has: the need for connection.

    • Nicole Schwab
      August 18, 2016 at 11:53

      Thank you Christine. Yes, the need for connection, that’s exactly it.

  2. Akshay Joshi
    August 18, 2016 at 17:43

    In an age where we invariably set our eyes on the next big technological innovation, your piece is extremely relevant and thought provoking. I’m always intrigued by our virtual world that increasingly forces us to impose rules in order to enable an in person interaction; a simple example of which is a no mobile phone policy at the dining table that my mom recently imposed in response to my constant need for texting during meals. On a different note, in a hyper connected virtual world, people are seeking meditation techniques such as Vipassana in order to re- connect to their inner selves.

    There needs to be greater appreciation for the connection to people and indeed to ourselves and I think your post really forces us to take stock of this dimension. Thank you!

  3. Malcolm Howlett
    August 18, 2016 at 22:12

    On my cycling the 2-3 miles to and from work, it is a rare day that I don’t see someone driving or cycling whilst on the phone, talking or texting. Severely risking having a large dose of reality in the form of a sizeable mass imposed on them.

    However there has always been a certain sense of this with people in a day-dream (for which I would plead guilty far too often) , or deep into a book (there was a photo recently of a vaguely familiar author seemingly ignoring the beautiful mountainous countryside around her whilst readiing a book 😉 ).
    I would submit that what modern technology has given us is it takes away the effort of imagination and so appeals to a larger proportion of the population.
    But then connection to people can take effort for many people, rewarding though it can often be, it also contains emotional risks. I can understand why people would prefer to a safer experience, even if it is the emotional equivalent of a short term sugar rush – see tomiguchi, or even those extremely unnerving AI dolls so poular in Japan.

  4. August 20, 2016 at 15:53

    You have brought into the light a most important subject Nicole and hence I could not refrain from commenting (forgive my wordiness please):

    Technology itself is neither good nor bad… like all things including money, technology is neutral. It is the consciousness behind the development and use of the technology which determines its ultimate positivity or negativity.

    However, when I consider the current state of human consciousness as reflected by the actions and policies of our so-called “global leaders” combined with the daily activities of the “followers” or in other words the largest percentage of the global population, I find the subject of artificial intelligence (A.I.) as nothing less than very disturbing and perhaps even terrifying.

    I say this because in society today what might be considered as “normal” consciousness (i.e. normal thinking) is nothing more than an egocentric mindset which consistently reveals itself as being fixated upon “who is right” rather than coming from a more evolved position of “what is most right”, or “what is of the highest good for the planet and all its inhabitants now, and for generations to come”.

    For the record, we know from experience that those who believe themselves to be the most “right” and who have acquired the positions of great power and control systematically confiscate “advanced technologies” in accordance with their agendas and have already begun using A.I. for greater control of the population via military and corporate applications.

    A.I. is a technology that could be applied in many amazing applications but it is also “a means to an end”. Regretfully in this case the “end” I am suggesting could well be the end of humanity as we know it. Currently, as humans we have to ability to direct our thoughts into manifestation. It is our natural intelligence (N.I.), our creativity that makes us “us” and which make us extraordinary beings. It is this natural intelligence which is the most important aspect of being human. This part of us is so very important but unless we begin to consider it to be “sacred” it shall be lost. And there-in lies the heart of the issue…we, as a global society have been unable to reach consensus on anything and we do not consider anything as sacred! So let us not kid ourselves into thinking that we can come into agreement about the ethical applications of this technology. We cannot even reach consensus around the idea that life is sacred…, not even human life is sacred on planet earth and without this agreement, it is of the highest likelihood that A.I. will be used in such a fashion as to lead us even further away from that which has the power to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable world for all to enjoy….”our true nature”…our “natural intelligence”.

    If my opinion seems extreme, then consider this fact: The year is 2016 and science has now proven what sages have known for thousands of years; that all life exists in an interconnected web of energy and information and that which affects one part of life affects all of life. However, regardless of this knowledge we, as a global society have yet to mature and evolve beyond the ignorance of racism, gender inequality, and an insatiable desire for wealth at any cost to the environment or humanity. And as we are so blatantly unable to embrace the true nature of our existing reality, it only stands to reason that we are not at all prepared to embrace to far-reaching implications of Artificial Intelligence.

    On a planet where those in control care more about war, military actions, power, and corporate gains than the true welfare of their own children and their children’s children, and where the idea of artificial intelligence is more seductive an idea than a healthier, happier humanity I firmly believe we have much cause for concern.

    Yes, it certainly does seem evident as reflected in the news of daily events that humanity has indeed lost its grip on reality….….…..in the end, we must think a whole lot deeper than to expect artificial intelligence to solve the problems created by our disconnection from each other, the planet, and the lack of understanding of our natural intelligence.

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