Detroit has a special place in my heart. While performing there I had a lot of downtime in my schedule and as the days turned colder, I found myself spending many of them in my smallish downtown hotel room. My own strange fascination with poetry lead me to read Shakespeare and later, Whitman s “Leaves of Grass”, out loud to myself in the quiet of my hotel room. My fruitful isolation was not unlike our current hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over the many ways that the internet will lead us all to be social misfits who can’t handle being with others in the world or worse. The same was said to be true of television, that it would lead us to become isolationists, unable to relate to one another or the world. We needn’t look too far into our collective imagery to find examples of people who hide in books to escape a world. It seems that in this instance our new media is just the opposite of the book, while the book is static, the internet is constantly presenting us with new vistas, real and imagined. With Google Earth, I can see places that I may never be able to see in person. I frequently chat with several friends with whom I have never met and only know each other through email. Is that friendship any less valuable or is this just another example of the glorification of a first world problem? We find ourselves more obsessed with inane tweets than the situations that caused them. As long as we allow this to happen, we are creating a greater isolation by turning away from the events of our world and focusing on the distribution of content. Perhaps we need to look at this new technology as the gift that it is and if we choose to, we can turn our eyes from the projections of the blue light on the cave walls. Indeed, we are truly all connected to one another and neither cell phones, or books or anything other media can ever change that. The true delusion is thinking that we are anything other than connected, to each other and to our environment. Perhaps all we really need to do is have faith in our ability to change our world, knowing that it takes more effort than a swipe of the finger.
It is with a fair amount of interest that I have followed the debate in Europe over the role of AI and how it should be viewed or regulated. Readers of this post may remember the kerfuffle caused by Sophia, the robot that appeared at Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh and caused a stir as a robot, as a woman robot and as a woman robot in an Arab country without a hajib. Well, the discussion has come up again in Europe where the European Parliament, to the outrage of AI specialists, advised that robots be given legal status. Like a corporation, this would not hold the companies that created the robots legally responsible for their behavior. It seems to be step in the Alfred P Newman, “what, me worry?” theology that seems to be the order of the day. If guns don’t kill people, then why should we think that companies that make robots are responsible for what they do. And yet, what about the place of robots as human beings. Would they have all the rights of a human or would they have some fraction like the 3/5 voting rights proposed for slaves by the Constitutional Convention of 1787? We seem to have such a good track record of integration and inclusion in this country, it seems strangely natural that we would not even be the ones having this discussion. Europe is far ahead of us on matters of understanding and regulating the role of this new technology, asking questions that we do not seem yet to acknowledge as issues. We can only hope that the robots that we give human status will be better humans than we seem to be.
After a long day and pouring a (large) glass of red wine, I settled down to read a bit of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” when I was stopped in my tracks with the quote, “Information and Knowledge: two currencies that never have gone out of style”. While the quote stopped me in my tracks, thinking of the excellent quote uttered by the brilliant Anthony Hollander in “Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest” that Currency is the coin of the realm. With our Janus faced thoughts of the caduceus of wisdom and knowledge often the fodder for this blog, perhaps at this point, we need to shift our focus to different horizons. In these days when the CEO of Facebook sits before Congress and says, perhaps we were naïve, makes me think that perhaps he was looking for a balance of information and currency. How charming to miss the stealing of information as one is too busy counting their money. As our political process seems to have become an all or nothing perhaps our whole worldview has moved to that view too. Perhaps, that is the thing we seem to be lacking in our current approach to information and life is balance.
It was with surprise that I saw the article in the BBC, that doctors in Britan were treating brain tumours with a drug that will cause a tumor to glow so that in the edges of a tumor will glow giving doctors the ability to see the edge so that they can remove it during surgery. In a strange case of life imitating art, I was reminded of Kevin Brockmeier’s book, The Illumination. In the book, pain manifests itself as visible light after a mysterious event called “the Illumination,” revealing our greatest pain to be the most beautiful thing about us. In this new electronic age, it seems that media allows every one of our pains to glow, to be seen and re-lived at any moment. We can look at tragedies from yesterday to almost 100 years ago, keeping Parkland as present as Hiroshima to those who are willing to look. On the anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, it is my hope that we might take a moment, find the courage to reflect on our own pain and give it the respect and reverence that deserves. It is truly one thing that while we may run from, we can not hide from it forever and in this world of the immediate now, perhaps its time to stop and see the beauty in our pain.