Sunday, March 27, 2011

The thing with two heads

Call it what you want, "artificial intelligence" or something like that, but it's really boring and it's leaking out of my iPhone, seeping through my consciousness, and settling like a pool of toxic sludge at the base of my central nervous system. It's certainly not news. On a beautiful early spring day like today here I am, trying to keep up with it, the chatter about technology, getting more and more bogged down under the falsity of it, while the returning mergansers and goldeneyes court out on the cold lake, as they have each year at this time. It's Sunday, it's Lent, and part of me remembers when I used to believe that I could partake of Christ's passion and get saved. Those days are gone. Unlike the ducks, I stopped knowing what I used to know.

A great unbalancing heaviness between my shoulder blades pushes down on my spine, making it hard to breathe and difficult to get up and walk. I can barely put on my shoes. I want to shout out, Lord, make me an effin pallet on the floor. Don't tell me that robots and harlots pray to the same god. It is unseasonably cold, I need a hat and gloves. Under a cloudless sky, the water is sapphire.

This stultifying pitch for technology, as blank and unbudgeable as a beige wall, oozes out of the Apple app store and the innumerable files stored in Google's cloud, it bleeds from sounds and images hawked on the idiot box, across video screens and out of earplugs, fixed in memory, messages so multitudinous as to become monotone, virtual projections of two worlds --
out there and in here -- made indistinguishable and boring by their ubiquity and frequency. This river of shite flows newly minted from public sites and private sources but the novelty wears off quickly, even if it leaves its mark, burning out the retinal nerves, short-circuiting the neurons behind the brow. This morning I've got a problem with my fingertips, they're numb and discolored and I can't feel things the way I used to. I run them along the cold deck railing and they scarcely tingle. What's happening to my body? Maybe I'm turning into a gadget, like Lanier warned.

The techno-savants and apologists for progress call it "intelligence," but the word only underscores how unintelligent we have become. They pronounce that a singularity is on the way, when humans and machines will become one. They must not feel things anymore either. Maybe their bodies are dead. Why else would they want to shed them and live disembodied forever? Why remake
The Thing With Two Heads?

At the urging of our priestly caste, these effin machines don cloaks of faux-kinesis and parade around as though they were going to force an essential change in human nature, alter the way we communicate, improve the way we think. Hah. After decades of planning and refining, millions of dollars invested, and thousands of man-hours spent by some of the best programmers in the world, humans were able to create Watson -- a machine just "intelligent" enough to answer trivial questions on a TV show. Let us praise its speed and accuracy, even as we ask ourselves: is this triumph cause for celebration or worry? Only among those with graduate degrees. They made the thing and they're the ones it'll replace. As for the uneducated, they're hungry and don't care while the merely literate are dazzled for a couple of minutes before forgetting what they've seen and going back to ESPN or
Glee. Me, I'm headed off into the woods, where the Wallkill flows north into New York. I have so few beliefs left, I can't help clinging to this one -- that knowledge begins in the body, and the body is part of the world.

I would rather live in a cave talking to shadows than break bread with an effin robot. When a computer bends over, spreads its cheeks, and dares me to wipe its dirty arse, then I'll consider the singularity is upon us.


  1. I am on the Acela going to Boston while reading your posting. Before I read it, I was in a stupor, I hardly slept last night and I was trying to rest on the train. I lazily opened your blog to see if there was anything new and this particular posting was like a shot of adrenaline.

    Somehow, I feel indicted. Maybe I am an apologist for technology but it will relentlessly march forward. We are going to do stupid things with it. The offenses will probably get worse before things get better. I do not think it will ever replace a human's ability to think.
    About 8 years ago, skeptics told me that my job of advising manufacturers and engineering firms on technology would become irrelevant because there is so much free information and opinions on the web. Well, my business is better than ever! The skeptics discovered that most of the opinions on the web are a cacophony of crap! Maybe there is a lesson in this for the publishing industry. Certainly, it is easy for anyone to publish on the web. I think the real challenge is to build a brand known for quality and get the market to recognize it. I know! Easier said than done.
    You may disagree but we may need more technology to give our lives some semblance of quality as we get older. There will be more of us in need than skilled people to take care of us. Without the aid of technology, we will suffer more than necessary given the demographics of us "baby boomers."Maybe robots will be wiping our arses rather than the other way around! Perhaps then, the humans helpers will then have more time to give us more compassion and support. (But knowing the healthcare profession, they will screw up that opportunity and we will pay through the nose for it.)
    I do think that technology affecting the will of people to think incisively – particularly young people. I wince at my kids using calculators to solve math problems that require a modicum of analytical thinking. At least in the case of my son, I think I have broken through. But, that is the tip of the iceberg.
    Technology needs to be adopted thoughtfully, without compromising the humanity of life. We are making mistakes along the way but I can only hope that in the end, our humanity and awareness of the offenses to our senses and sensitivities will help us find our way. We all need to take walks in the woods and leave the technology behind for sanity. But when we get back from our walks, we can't escape it.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Mark. I don't argue the fact that technology is necessary in providing tools for human use. This is proper, irreversible and will continue to make our lives easier in myriad ways. What is insane (life-denying) is the opposite notion: that humans are tools for machines' use. It is also loony to suggest that we (humans and machines) share a sense of being and, at some point in the near future, will become one: the android. Machines/tools don't scare me -- it's the way people use 'em that makes me nervous and depressed.

  3. I agree with you.

    By the way, Your thoughts here remind me of an old Twilight Zone I saw years ago. I looked it up and found that the episode was called "The Lonely" and dates from 1959. You can get a synopsis of it from the following link:

    Also, I think you can find sites that allow you to view it. The last 2-3 minutes of "The Lonely" make your point.