Even in genuinely dire circumstances, panic doesn’t serve anyone.
When the machines finally took over the means of production on Earth, the only job remaining was to be human.
AI, as it turned out, wasn’t the end of the world that everybody foresaw. First, it helped with our menial jobs and then it helped with our complex jobs. Then AI helped with art. One of the corporate success stories of the last 100 years was a company that programmed AI to do “better-than-human” creative work. It developed algorithms that could hit parts of the brain only previously illuminated by banned substances and deep meditative states. The art was more perfect than anything produced by Da Vinci or Beyoncé. This scared the human artists – what hope did they have against the algorithm? But they needn’t have worried. The ones who survived were the ones who persisted in being human.
People lost jobs along the way, sure, but people also found jobs - new ways of finding meaning in their lives. And when AI resolved humanity’s challenges, like saving the environment and feeding people and sending people into space, people created a new economy; one that cared about connection and creativity and helping others. Nobody thanked the AI. People just got on with their lives, still worrying about death and the prospect of superintelligent machines coming to destroy them. Maybe they are still coming, but they haven’t destroyed us yet.
Whether they come to destroy us or not, the AI developments of the 21st Century have certainly brought about a renaissance, although not in the strictly artistic sense. Looking back on it, It is as if the entire human race has been re-born. AI has freed humanity to do what it does best: be human. And sure, it hasn’t been perfect. It’s still not. Humans aren’t perfect, are they? People act up and fight with each other and try to game the systems they build. But 2100 is a damn sight better than 2000, I can tell you that much.
Perhaps I’m biased. I’ll happily admit that I was one of the lucky ones. Twenty years ago I was first invited to outer space to create imperfect human art, to spread my imperfect ideas around the world (and maybe one day to distant galaxies). Since then, I have travelled back and forth between here and home, trying to bridge a gap between those who have boldly clung to our planet and those who have left. My art won’t illuminate brains in the same way as the algorithm, but my human flaws have become a commodity. People don’t want a shortcut to the perfect artistic experience. Not always.
So each day I wake up here on this satellite space station and produce some imperfect art. I’m careening through orbit at 7km/s on a small space ship, and yes, I think about how bonkers my life is. For six months at a time, I do my work and I eat my vacuum packed food and I hang out with my wife and kids (they’re here, too). We’re all mostly happy, and that’s all we can ask for.
Then I think of all the artists on Earth, creating and doing their thing, and I think they’re just as lucky as I am. Each time I return to Earth, the place looks a little better. People ask me if I miss it when I’m up here - I’d be lying if I said I didn’t – but my separateness definitely makes me cherish it more.
There’s always going to be a demand for an imperfect human perspective on an imperfect world, and as I look down at the cloudy blue planet I call home, I get it. It really is beautiful from up here.
Beats burning out.
And celebrate them like the big ones.
Need less stimulants.
Does the world really need your negative perspective? Think instead, how can you turn critique into action?
In music, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition.
If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord — because that’s the end!
But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct.
We’ve got a system of schooling that gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of, “Come on kitty kitty kitty!” and now you go to kindergarten, you know, and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you’ll get into first grade. And then — Come on! — first grade leads to second grade, and so on, and then you get out of grade school. You go to high school and it’s revving up — The thing is coming! — then you’re gonna go to college, and by jove, then you get into graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school you go out and join the world.
Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance, and they’ve got that quota to make and you’re gonna make that, and all the time “the thing” is coming — It’s coming, it’s coming! — that great thing: the success you’re working for.
Then when you wake up one day, about 40 years old, you say, “My God, I’ve arrived! I’m there!” And you don’t feel very different from what you always felt. And there’s a slight let down because you feel there was a hoax.
And there was a hoax.
A dreadful hoax.
They made you miss everything.
We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end: success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.
But we missed the point the whole way along.
It was a musical thing — and you were supposed to sing, or dance, while the music was being played.
Amidst the storm.
A little bit lighter. Bring some humour, change the strategy, work in bursts. We don’t have to get bogged down by the daily grind just because.
On the world for so long. Eventually we have to accept who we are.
Overcommitting can be slippery slope. Ruthlessly under-commit.
Your worst habits, amplify your best.
At the end of my Chinese meal, I opened the fortune cookie and the message read: ‘Your life is in danger. Say nothing to anyone. You must leave the city and never return. Repeat: say nothing.’
I showed it to my waiter and he was very apologetic. I told him I wanted a discount; the fortune cookie had put a dampener on what was otherwise a lovely meal. The waiter scurried off to the kitchen, presumably to talk to the manager or the chef, and came back with a second fortune cookie.
‘Thank you’, I said ‘but what about my discount?’
‘Oh, of course, yes. Sorry sir.’ The waiter went into the kitchen again, this time for a little longer.
While he was gone I read the message from the second cookie and my word, it said the same thing: ‘Your life is in danger etc. etc.’
When the waiter came back, I showed him the message. He apologised, this time more profusely, and ran off into the kitchen.
As he turned away from my table I called to him, ‘don’t forget the discount!’
At that point, I thought about doing a runner from the restaurant. I didn’t want to pay at all. My evening had been utterly ruined. I just wanted to get my discount and go home. Yet, out of some deep-seated sense of doing the right thing, I waited.
The waiter came back, this time with a third cookie and no sign of a discount; not even a bill, or anyone of seniority that I could talk to.
I don’t really remember the next bit of the story that well. What I do remember is the sound of shattering glass. I must have blacked out, because when I woke up, I was lying crushed under the wheel of the car.
Needless to say, I’d forgotten all about the cookies and the discount and the meal and everything that came before it. The only thing that mattered was this whopping great vehicle on my chest. I don’t know how I knew it, but I knew I was going to die.
I was about to close my eyes for good, when the chef emerged from the kitchen. I wanted to stay alive a little longer, to at least hear what he’d have to say about the situation. I recall him walking over quite slowly, which was infuriating as I was having to put in a fair bit of work to keep breathing. I think they were the most agonising seconds of my life. Eventually, the chef arrived.
Looming over me, he said, ‘The cookies told you to leave the city and never return. Why didn’t you?’
My dying words were: ‘I didn’t believe in fortune back then. But now…’
With doing. It’s okay to just be.
Are gifts. Cling on to them.
Are a complete waste of time.
Is probably different, and that’s okay.
Have something to look forward to.
And don’t stop. Piece by piece it will come together.