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 really made me laugh out loud. I mean, how often is it that the grey lady, New York Times On-Line projects hilarity into this ultra-serious time. It seems that coder Eric Bailey decided to create an add-on to Google’s Chrome browser to counteract the surge in news stories that blame so-called millennials for the world’s problems. The Millennials to Snake People add-on term “millennials” to “snake people” in news articles and on websites. No accessing the launch codes, just something that he thought would be funny. Somehow this was allowed to slip into an article that appeared in the online edition but was corrected for the print version.
While the online article only referred to the “Great Recession” as “the time of shedding and cold rocks”, the fact that someone seems to be using the internet and social media to inject a bit of mirth into the discussion is a move that we wholeheartedly endorse. This seems to continue in the proud tradition of jokers and fools have been Ernie Kovacs, Salvador Dali, the Pie Man even St Francis. It seems that the jokers and fools will be the ones to open our eyes to a vaster possibility of engagement, to make us examine this new presence in our lives, to lose our jaded blinders and to remember that we are surrounded by wonder and that each moment can be a moment to be surprised by joy. Or at least snake people!
A course in graduate school on Shakespeare and Opera introduced me to the idea of the fool, namely the one who everyone thinks has no knowledge but because of this can tell the King just how foolish they really are. No one expects wisdom from him so that he has the freedom to speak the wisdom that others fear. In thinking of the idea of the wise fool, I was reminded of a topic we have visited here before, the difference between knowing and understanding, the difference between knowledge and wisdom. With all the knowledge available at the touch of our fingertips, indeed, Google seems like a greyhound waiting to fetch whatever bit of information we need, we still seem to be a loss as to what to do with it all. We seem to need the wise fool to step up and remind us of what we don’t know. Because we can lock a rocket onto a location 4000 miles away and send it off with the push of a button, should we? Because I can say whatever comes to mind at any time and send it out into the universe forever, is that the right thing to do? In short, shouldn’t we take a moment to listen to the inner fool to remind us of what we don’t know and knowing that, think about what we should or shouldn’t do? Or else we may become like a sightless king, needing only to see better.
If our age could have a patron saint, I would like to nominate Captain Renault, Claude Rains character in Casablanca. In his famous scene, Claude Rains, playing the role of Captain Louis Renault, jokingly suggested that gambling in the local Rick’s Café nightclub astonished him. In truth, Renault is fully in the know, corrupt and on the take. This seems to be the role that the media and many politicians seem to want to play during this presidency. While the idea that a twenty-four-hour media would not create a twenty-four-hour news cycle may still be news to some, it seems as though we can’t imagine that a reality star in the presidency would use the media as a reality star would- a tool to promote themselves and their brand. With the creation of a 24-hour news media, why should we be shocked when someone tweets at 5 in the morning? We have created a media wave yet ridicule people who surf it. (Please understand- I am speaking of the use of the media- not the content) I am reminded of the film “Frost/Nixon” Where David Frost, on hearing Nixon resigned was angered not by the act but that he had done it in the morning in the East coast while the major media on the west coast was still asleep and could not cover the event live. How could he pull off the greatest media stunt of his time while much of the country was not awake to see it? Frost knew the power of media and knew how to use it to his own advantage. Now we have the children of the media using these tools in their own playground. If the brand is what we value, why not use all the tools to increase its worth, I mean, you go to the zoo- expect to see the monkeys.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what year it was, but one new years day I woke about 2 in the afternoon realizing that someone had been using my head as a gong and had knitted tiny booties for each of my teeth. The only reason that I woke up is that somewhere someone had turned on some music to greet the new year, playing the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds”. Those unfamiliar with the song should know the refrain goes, “Don’t worry about a thing because every little thing is going to be alright” While that was small solace to me at that moment, it seemed to sink into my memory and become a touchstone for the entire year, an island of hope which I often returned to. Listening to the news in the past few days reminded me of that song summoning me from a stupor and giving me hope. These days it seems like newscasters seem to be falling over themselves to tell us how the world is coming to an end. Not that there are not serious things going on in the world, it seems that each new media brings with it a new form of creative destruction. While the printing press brought the newly printed bible to the masses, it also created the Reformation; television brought the world into our homes allowing us to see racial segregation, carpet bombing and a Viet Cong officer during the Tet Offensive as well as Bernstein s Omnibus and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Those of us who remember our philosophy classes in college and Hegel may remember the dialectic, how each thing creates its opposite or what Taoist philosophers call Self-Manifestation through Contraries. While this process can be destructive, perhaps the only way to face this disruptive innovation is to think of the hopeful words of Bob Marley or these days a better choice may be the coping suggestion here from Bette Middler. Perhaps if we don’t face the music and dance, at least we can laugh.
Please take a moment to listen….