I've fallen behind on my commitment to post weekly because I didn't plan ahead, and this weekend I was occupied with a friend who traveled a bit of distance for my birthday and stayed for a couple of days. And then I was just really, really, tired, and I still am but I'm getting this post out of the way so I don't keep falling behind.
In part I'm tired because for weeks I haven't slept well even by my standards. I think I have a lot of anxiety and trauma building up that I don't consciously feel much, but that bubbles closer to the surface as I approach the threshold between consciousness and other stuff. One recent morning, after waking up hours earlier than I wanted to and failing to get back to sleep, I dreamed while still awake, as I do more often than normal people probably do. I was partially lucid. When I found myself high above the Earth, I quickly decided that I was just floating in orbit and wouldn't fall because falling is my biggest fear in the world. So I was floating in orbit, and then the view zoomed out to show more of the galaxy, and of course almost immediately I was invisible, and I - real life I, not dream I - almost burst into tears at how much I don't matter. So apparently that's an anxiety I have bottled up ever since I read Carl Sagan's book Cosmos. His books really mess me up, but he seems like such a decent guy, I can't get mad at him.
Then, too, on Sunday night I went up Logan Canyon with this friend and a few other friends. We were going to camp up there, but we just did a campfire and ate stuff and drank stuff until almost 12:30 before we all chickened out and came home. I suffered a lot for making those memories, but I guess it was worth it because toward the end the moon vanished behind the mountain and we could see a backdrop of magic sparkly stuff behind the larger stars. Just to make conversation, I taught the others that it's called the Milky Way because it came out of the goddess Hera's breast. And just to make conversation, I asked the others if it made them feel insignificant. One friend said no, actually the opposite, because he feels like it was all made for him. I jokingly called him a narcissist. I thought of the love I felt for these friends and the camaraderie I was enjoying with them that night, and I thought what a shame it will be if that all vanishes forever when we die because our existence and our human connections are really just an insignificant and temporary accident.
AI is making a lot of people feel insignificant too. If you're like me, you're really tired of hearing the word "ChatGPT" over and over and over again. A guy at the local Unitarian Universalist church gave a presentation on it on Sunday morning, talking about its positives and negatives and spiritual implications, and I finally saw it operating in real time as he made it rewrite the story of the three little pigs with the wolf converting to Unitarian Universalism, then rewriting it again in the style of Roald Dahl and then in the style of Shel Silverstein. And then he made it produce photorealistic images of Joe Biden as a karate master. Naturally, as one who hopes to someday make a living by writing, I'm a little concerned that AI will make my talents unnecessary and condemn me to the kind of menial factory job that robots should be doing. People say not to worry about it because AI isn't that good. Well, maybe it isn't yet, but it will improve. That's how technology works. Its current skill level would have been unfathomable five years ago, and its skill level five years from now is all but guaranteed to be exponentially greater. I tried out some AI stuff myself over the last couple days, and they were just free websites that wouldn't write very long stories, but still I was amazed at the coherence and detail that emerged from my prompts.
AI is artificial intelligence. It's dependent on input from humans with human brains. It can't actually think. It isn't actually conscious. That's an illusion. But might it someday be real? Is it possible to create truly conscious machines? David Bentley Hart, is his philosophy book, says no. He points out that there's a huge difference between how computers work and how brains work, and metaphors about the brain as a computer really obfuscate that fact, and he claims that brains are too complex and that subjective consciousness can't be replicated just by replicating their physical processes because there's an insuperable qualitative difference between those things. Indeed, I just read in the news that a neuroscientist lost a 25-year bet with a philosopher about whether by this year scientists would have figured out how neurons produce consciousness. They haven't. But if somehow they ever do, and then AI replicates it, we're all screwed in a lot of ways. Fittingly, this was today's GoComics Calvin and Hobbes rerun.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.