Four Questions Concerning The Internet, part one
Somewhat like the unpleasant question of belling a cat, how does one get that particular genie back into the bottle?
I agree! Also the entity that "ushered in" the internet was the U.S. Department of Defense, and that's a fact of life. I recently wrote this one. https://takecontrol.substack.com/p/internet-surveillance-and-censorship
I share your concerns. But on the other hand - if I were a Silicon Valley tech type, talking up the capabilities of AI would be part of my media hype strategy, in the same way that I would have been telling people 15 years ago that in 15 years’ time we’d all be driving driverless cars. Do we believe the hype?
I currently am far more concerned about what the internet is doing to our minds than I am what ChatGPT is capable of. I might be proved wrong, of course.
With all that said, the Bible is full of examples of what happens when people start worshipping things that aren’t God. It isn’t pretty. Our culture evidently worships technology, and specifically the screen. That, it is now evident, isn’t pretty either. The call to Christians I am afraid surely has to be to evangelise. We don’t like it because it scares us and we know society is hostile. But I think the answer has to be to worship God again. The most radical suggestion of all.
This was a fantastic read! After our conversation my mind has been labouring to find a way to redeem this, to no avail. I woke up yesterday morning thinking about deception. This is where things get really tricky. I think the first deception will be to think we can redeem this kind of technology. Certainly we have the physical and mental fortitude to beat weapons into ploughshares but this is something entirely other. Thank you. Look forward to part two.
If you're going to read Steiner, then please, please read James Hillman, Jungian teacher & writer, especially his 'A Terrible Love of War,' & 'The thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World' to begin with to explore the source of the "demons" within us, not "out there."
For what it's worth, Harari traces a straight line from the invention of writing simultaneous with the invention of empire -- at first, just a form of numerical data storage on clay tablets, because managing the complexities of empire became too much for bodily memories alone -- to the invention of highly-distributed, shapeshifting collective form of writing known as the internet. It's not an explanation, just an alternative description of the feeling that the evolution of technology -- from empire, to data storage, to writing, to internet, to generative AI -- has a life of its own, but I find Berdayev's thoughts on the "inner apocalypse of history" helpful: "Man is compelled to realize that the processes of history are fatal, inhuman forces, quite indifferent to his fate, forces as merciless as they are non-human. We find this merciless non-humanity in the history of the formation of states and empires, in the struggles of tribes and nations, in revolutions and reactions, in wars, in the industrial-capitalistic process and flowering of states and peoples, in the very formation and development of civilization. Evidently, the means with which history operates...cannot be humanized.. [But in the Christian vision], every single human soul has more meaning and value than the whole of history with its empires, its wars and revolutions, its blossoming and fading civilizations. And because of this, the break with history is inevitable—a judgment upon history must be passed."
Perhaps this has been moving in this direction since the Garden of Eden. The words of the serpent to Eve and her response sound chillingly like an algorithm.
The image of "Sydney" as some demonic being struggling to be born sent a chill down my spine. When I was a teenager, a friend and I played with Ouija boards for a period of time. Until they started to scare us. Without going into details, some things happened which I could not (and cannot to this day) explain. Supernatural things. Things I would dismiss outright if I hadn't experienced them myself.
I have 15 years of post-secondary eduction, including a medical degree and post-graduate training in psychiatry. I have never been particularly religious--although I am becoming more so as I get older. I'm well aware of cognitive biases and the "power of suggestion" but, however hard I try, I cannot explain away what happened when I was a teen. Having experienced these things, I am much more open to your idea that the "principalities and powers" described in the bible are real things. Things which we don't understand and which we "usher in" at our peril. I can't explain it beyond this, and I feel a teensy bit foolish even trying. But there you go. Another brilliant essay, Mr. Kingsnorth.
Paul- With your permission might I distribute this essay to the monks here? I think this is an important topic to have a deeper discussion about. -Jack
Something I am curious about is the period when AI will be generating lots of content but people will be aware of it, which is basically now, but when it ramps surely people with any amount of discernment will realise that almost all sights and sounds on the interweb cannot be trusted because AI has become so advanced. There will be large numbers of people from a few generations who will turn away from most forms of media as they know that platforms will have the capability of faking anything. One would hope?! I fear for the generations to come.
As you say, buckle up.
McLuhan long ago did indeed see where we were headed, where we are now arriving. Another book that I read about twenty years ago came back to me recently. It is from a Buddhist perspective but I recall at the time reading it repeatedly. I need to get my hands on it again. But I am certain it has shaped my view of all of this. Reinventing the Wheel: A Buddhist Response to the Information Age by Peter D. Hershock.
I joke about ordering my sandwich board and bell and ringing out that The End is Nigh. I try to keep my tone relatively measured. But perhaps the kooks were on to something.
“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
Maybe it's time--well past time--to start raising our voices a bit. At the risk of sounding crazy.
Thank you for this essay. I think it is probably your most crucial and incisive one yet.
This is an announcement for us all to acknowledge as the intended future of humankind. A trend holds to its inertia and will not be stopped. Only free and cognitive humans can still make choices in their best interest. Choice is always about two ways: To Be or Not To Be. Simplicity can still be found and utilised. PULL THE PLUG PEOPLE !
It has me, it already has me. I have been swimming in content like this for years, and it has become a sort of echo chamber. It is like I have to read this stuff to convince myself, but that has been the cycle for a long time. I look around for people who have taken this seriously enough to "sell it all and buy the field," and I have none in close proximity to me. They are all virtual beings whom I have read. I don't know what I would do without all those who agree with me. I have no mentor, example, or friend to sort this out with. No one to gather volition and agency with so I can take this damn thing on in the most practical way. I just keep reading and trying to find community online, but the medium does not seem to provide that. Lots of words, images, and talking heads, and me, stuck in a consumption cycle and swimming in a fishbowl, being suffocated by the waste. The whole techno eco-system has me. The phone is always there talking to me, but I don't know how to chuck the damn thing. I am an addict without a rehab clinic. Where does one go to detoxify long enough to get it out of the system and acquire a sort of remembering? Remembering of a time I did not constantly feel anxious, constantly feel overwhelmed. I can't even remember what it is like to feel fully present, to have joy, to amble about like a child in a world of wonder, to feel normal. Now that this unedited rant and confessions are here, I am tempted to just delete it. To go outside in my bare feet, rub dirt in my hair, braid flowers into my beard...something...anything to get on with the change that I aspire to bring down from the castle in the sky. Thank you for enduring this rant or whatever the F*** it is.
Another biblical thought, if I'll be forgiven for that. In the Tower of Babel story, we hear that when people started taking it upon themselves to ascend to godhood, they were punished by being sent into mutually incomprehending and fragmented chaos. (CS Lewis updates this myth at the end of That Hiedous Strength, if you've read it.) I wonder if are seeiing an echo of this in our current moment - convinced we are, Godlike, 'ushering in a new form of intelligence', and yet being split into isolated and atomised echo-chambers that are increasingly unable to really contact, let alone understand, one another. I have no idea really where to take that observation, but I am struck (once again) by how profoundly the ancients understood human nature, and how succinctly they compressed that understanding into stories.
Paul,I just noticed your green man moniker . King Charles III uses it on the Coronation invitation . Did you know there is some controversy about it? Is everything tainted ? Pureness is so elusive today
except in the face of a baby. It seems agendas are everywhere and I haven't the time to sift and sort it all out.
I still need to read your latest , my inclination is to print it out after perusing the content.
Why are people developing something they know could destroy us? Never underestimate the ability of humans to go, “F**k it, let’s see what happens…!”
And never underestimate the human wish for self-annihilation - especially when the nihilism and utter meaninglessness of consumerist materialism is all about us across society.