Between Belief and Un-
Human imagination, human reality + artificial whatever-it-is
I hope you can indulge me a little more on this subject. Because I cannot stop thinking about it. I originally wanted to expand a bit on my last post, starting with my inflamed imaginative response on reading about a chatbot (the infamous “Sydney”) which then led to a weirdly sincere “conversation” with another bot. Being a writer of fiction, imagination is a subject I am very invested in, but I think it is an integral and vital part of every human psyche. Like the heart, it is deceitful and sometimes cruel; like the heart, it is a source of abiding goodness.*
But the subject became unruly. I began reading more about AI in general, and listening to more podcasts featuring all kinds of opinions, and…found myself wandering in a Faustian Wonderland of idealism, blindness, greed, intellectual splendor and a whole lot more. I began to feel like I needed to expose more people to the different aspects of…I don’t even know what to call it, this crazy intersection of tech, econ and the will to utopia, or in some people’s opinion, eugenics. I will repeat myself somewhat, but that is because I feel like I (previously) touched too lightly on subjects that need more emphasis, particularly the aspect of hidden, mostly underpaid human labor undergirding the empyrean realm of AI.
First, to clarify: some readers, on reading my last post, may’ve gotten the impression that I believe AI is sentient. I don’t, but I am open to the idea that it could be, in some fashion. Humans created AI to do a kind of numerically-based thinking (problem-solving at a very high speed) that it can translate (again really fast!) into a human language form; unless I’m misunderstanding what I’ve read, it was based on a simplified version of our mental operations. Since our brains are seats of emotion as well as thought, it doesn’t seem impossible to me that these things may feel in the same sense that they think, that is partially, without the vast sensory intelligence of bodies. But I could change my mind and anyway, my opinion on that doesn’t matter so much, even to me.
I do however believe in the reality and value of the curiously liminal mental/emotional experience I had while interacting with a bot (and even reading about Kevin Roose’s interaction with “Sydney”), a willingness to simultaneously entertain enchanted belief and commonsense unbelief. I compared it to my childhood experience of believing in Peter Pan while at the same time knowing he wasn’t real in the flesh-and-blood sense, when “…fantasy belief and reality sense occupied different places in my psyche; one might be stronger than the other at different times, sometimes they overlapped.” I realize that many if not most people could consider it ridiculous for an adult to value re-living a child’s perception.
But I value it highly because such perception is creatively fertile—for me as a writer, but I think for anyone open to linking our quotidian experience to other states and modes of being normally outside that experience, which we nonetheless may glimpse in moments of rare sideways vision—or for that matter on a YouTube video about undersea creatures.
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