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.
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!
I like Chicago. No, that isn’t right. I love Chicago. Not only was it a place that I grew up but also a place that made me the person that I am today. For me it is the Billy Goat Tavern, The Burghoff, Rocky’s Fish House and many other haunts that no longer exit in the way that I knew them. Every so often I think about moving back to the Windy City and what it would be like to be back there. However, my thoughts are rooted in the city that I grew up in and not in the city that exists now. Unfortunately I am able to access this phantom city any time in my memory, no matter how far the reality may have moved on. This seems like the situation that many people are now finding with the internet, as search engines and algorithms that bring us the information that will reinforce our world view and keep us in that rut, unchallenged by different points of view and in some cases in a haze of fake news. We seem to find ourselves in funnels of yes men of information that no longer challenge our belief but instead reinforce them. Will we demand that this new media challenge us or will we take the blue pill and drift off on a missile of misinformation?
In an interview, musician Jeff Mills mentioned what he had been reading, which turned out to be Stephen Kerns, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918. One of the brilliant things this book discusses, and there are many, is his detailing how the railroads forced the standardization of time. Before railroads came along, each city had its own version to time, a standard time of their own making yet as the need to predict the arrival and departure of goods and passengers. The idea of a standard time then came into play much to the relief of commerce and rail passengers. As our relationship with technology seems more and more singular, it poses the question if our technology will begin to allow us to move back to our own personal idea of time and our own personal time zone. As a standardization of time also allowed time clocks and timed work days to manage the industrial revolution, now our need seems to allow people to work on their own schedule. We no longer work in a 9-5 life but in flex time and on schedules that we create ourselves. Why does it seem so odd to think that we may find a time when we all have our own personal time. One could live in an understanding of time of their own making. Our devices could translate the time from person to person in the way we deal with time zones today allowing you to truly live in a time zone of ones own making.
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.