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NO HUMAN POWER
AI, my HP, and me
“A three-letter acronym doesn’t capture the enormity of what AGI [Artificial General Intelligence] would represent, so I will refer to it as what it is: God-like AI. A superintelligent computer that learns and develops autonomously, that understands its environment without the need for supervision and that can transform the world around it. God-like AI could be a force beyond our control or understanding, and one that could usher in the obsolescence or destruction of the human race.” —Ian Hogarth, The Financial Times
We’ve been talking, us formerly upwardly mobile, once slim-fitted creative professionals.
And “we’re fucked.”
At least that’s where the conversation invariably goes. The writers, designers, directors, and photographers in my world are obsessing over AI. We’ve played with the chatbots, fucked with dystopian-picture-generating Midjourney, read the white papers, listened to the pods, and it all comes back to this sense of existential fucked-ness. Will this so-called “God-Like” AI kill us? How will it kill us? And more importantly, perhaps, what are we all going to do for a living if it doesn’t kill us?
For the Gen X-Millennial cusper like myself, maybe the fatalism is directly linked to watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day over and over and over again during our tweeny years. Our age cohort (of boys at least, the girls were all into Pretty Woman, which is SO fucked, but that’s for another column) was totally enthralled with the Arnold Schwarzenegger canon. Sure, we could quote every line from Predator. And Total Recall had that three-breasted mutant woman. But this was our masterpiece. James Cameron directed. Peak Guns N’ Roses on the soundtrack. And we were about the same age as Eddie Furlong, who played the young humanity-saving John Connor in the film. When Schwarzenegger tells a prison-yoked Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), “Come with me if you want to live,” I happily went along for that ride in a hijacked Freightliner down the concrete-channeled LA River.
Point being: I’ve had the singularity on my radar for over 30 years.
But apart from not dying in a machine-instigated fiery apocalypse, for the most part, I don’t really care that much about AI. And certainly not in its current creepy dysmorphic hands incarnation. Judging from what I’ve seen on the LinkedIn scroll, that might be an unfavorable POV to have in my field. But I just don’t want to pretend to be another pretend AI expert. I don’t want to make my living writing prompts. I don’t want to make gimmicky AI art. Or see it. Ever.
As for “God-like AI,” I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on God, with God. Generally, I’m a pretty rational guy. But the very idea of God is anti-rational. And in that respect, I am anti-rationalism. God isn’t of the brain. God is of the heart. God begins where reason ends. God defies definition.
Only God is God-like.
Mind, on the other hand, is like a computer. Even a vastly superior artificial mind (computer) has its limits. And I get Moore’s Law. The level of sophistication will increase exponentially. But spirituality in its purest state is already fully optimized. Spirituality is infinite. There’s always enough to go around.
“Enough to go around” is not how I would describe the current techno reality created by the likes of Musk, Zuckerberg, and Bezos. We’re all feeling the squeeze—financially, emotionally, spiritually—of living in an era where intellect and reason are everything, where our ability to think is way more valued than our ability to feel and do. This goes back to Descartes, has been supercharged by capitalism since, and is now nuclear-powered by technocracy.
Today we live in their technocratic reality. We speak their technocratic language. And I’m not just talking TESCREAL (an acronym encompassing transhumanism, extropianism, singularism, cosmism, rationalism, and effective altruism). I’m talking about using language historically linked to machines to describe ourselves: words like optimizing, pivoting, and syncing, to talk about our heartbreak-feeling, mucus-membrane-rubbing-together, burping, farting selves—our inherent humanness techwashed by those who place efficiency over everything.
The wealthiest titans of tech—whom our economy more and more totally relies on for survival—are wise enough to know that via non-attachment, ascetic holy men in the Himalayas have been everything everywhere all at once for thousands of years. But that doesn’t provide much succor. Sure, Steve Jobs made the requisite pilgrimage to India. But they don’t seem to get that you can’t rationalize, capitalize, and AI your way into enlightenment. I’m not sure you can ice bath, intermittent fast, and DMT your way in either. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)
As far as enlightened beingness goes, Jack Dorsey is serving vibes perhaps in beard only. Maybe Musk does better. His attachment to longtermism could be perceived as its own form of radical non-attachment, i.e., the fate of super space humanoids of the future Trumping the wellbeing of us knuckle-dragging, Kardashian-watching mouthbreathers currently milling about Earth.
Suffice to say, the supplicants to logic in Silicon Valley are not who I’m looking to for help to improve my conscious contact with God. They have the hubris to call their AI “God-like,” to declare God a controlling figure potentially hellbent on human annihilation. That’s definitely not a higher power of my understanding.
Call AGI what it is. Autonomously developing AI. Uncontrollable AI. Terrifying AI. But God-like AI? Whose God are we talking about?
I wondered what Ram Dass would think about all of this. So, I asked him. And he said, “Remember that the intellect is supposed to be the servant, not the master.” I should clarify. I asked Ram Das AI, a chatbot trained on Ram Dass’ teaching using Chat GPT-4, Langchain, and Pinecone. It’s honestly kind of cool.
Fuck, maybe I do care about AI. Maybe I am actually interested if AI will someday be able to tap into the infinite sea of consciousness that Ram Dass, Neem Karoli Baba, and David Lynch have all talked about. Or will there always be that impenetrable wall there, separating human from machine? Is that the last God-given that can never be taken from us?
And one final thing, because my dopamine-rat brain has been asking the whole time I’ve been writing this. Could AI cure my alcoholism? When we’re all immortal CRISPR’d cyborg (small “g”) gods, will alcoholism still exist? Will an actual non-human power, in this case some genomic data sifting AI, someday actually help eradicate it once and for all? Will billions of dollars of investment into the technology make it possible for me to have just one tequila grapefruit someday? Who knows? Ram Dass AI doesn’t think so. And I’m on that Ram Dass AI tip today. I’m straight up being here now. And when I really think about co-existing with the void, the darkness, the weight of the moment, I don’t need God-like.
I need, like, God.
Many years ago when I had my own fleeting first-hand brush with the divine, my white light moment that led me to the path of recovery, I heard something. Not in my ears. But in my heart. And it said, “Come with me if you want to live.”
Text by Andrew Smart / Illustration by Conor Donahue
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