For 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.