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  • Writer's pictureChristopher McHale


AI will be less than we're promised and more than we need

A man uses AI to create an illogical image of his dog and a weird bridge to nowhere.
The author and his real dog, Buddy

The Great Promise of Silicon Valley AI Technology

Technology is framed as the Great Promise.

I feel a little deceived.

Maybe even betrayed.

Not me exactly, but all of us. Led down a garden path. Promised something never delivered.

What are the roots of these feelings of betrayal? What do we trust? Where is the compass?

I was always suspicious. I didn’t understand, and I asked a lot of questions. But I also took a lot on trust, and in life, that can be a terrible choice.

Instinct is where you begin. Pay attention to how you feel, and how I felt when I first moved forward into this brave new world promised us by the Digital Lords of Silicon Valley was confused. What was being told to me made little sense.

When I expressed that confusion, the reaction was usually derisive. Get with the program. Don’t be left behind. Generational put downs. A whole raft of rolling eyes and shaking heads. I just didn’t get it, apparently. Except I did.

The Resistance's Predictions and Today's AI Disruption

Alexis Madrigal collected early criticisms of the web in The Atlantic article, The People Who Hated the Web Before Facebook.

Resisting the Virtual Life published by City Lights covers data harvesting discrimination, online gender inequality, and public space reduction. It also proposes solutions for a democratic future. The essays predicted economic instability due to the internet, the rise of the "boy engineer" culture, and the impact of personal data on corporations. “What could go wrong with the web?” the authors asked. The answer they found was: A lot. They called themselves “the resistance.”

Google and other fast-growing companies ignored the criticism and rephrased it as "freedom of speech" and "democratization of opportunity" for the “new creative era.” Regulation, they said, will break the internet, like the internet was a precious resource beyond any consideration of ethics or boundaries.

And yet when we review those critiques from 30-years ago, they are remarkably accurate. Scary, really, when you go over it. But I wouldn’t say prescient, because honestly, human nature is entirely predictable. Humans are humans. The map was laid out millennia ago.

Despite living in a technological paradise for 20 years, our essential nature remains unchanged, leading to a worldwide pyramid scheme. Disruption, yes. New lanes of communication, sure. But a renaissance of creativity? Not convinced.

And now the latest promise is here, the ultimate disruption. Artificial Intelligence (AI). And a return of the digital domain’s greatest fear—FOMO. But maybe this time it’s different. Maybe this time we’re a little less naive, a little less likely to take Silicon Valley at its word.

Art Holds the Key to Elemental Truths

Writing on her blog The Marginalian, Maria Popova writes ‘Every creator’s creations are their coping mechanism for life — for the loneliness of being, for the longing for connection, for the dazzling incomprehension of what it all means. What we call art is simply a gesture toward some authentic answer to these open questions, at once universal and intimately felt — questions aimed at the elemental truths of being alive, animated by a craving for beauty, haunted by the need to find a way of bearing our mortality.’

What a beautiful focus on human creativity. And what a sharp indicator of how AI fails. AI will fail in addressing our deep loneliness and providing us with a compass to the elemental truths of being alive, even if it can help us eliminate some drudgery and replace executives.

Art’s purpose is to serve all the shades of our humanity, draw essential insights and inspirations, and only humanity can bring to life an authentic art up to the task.

I say these things to help kindle a flame of courage against the debilitating scorn of the Digirati, who see these new AI tools as ways to drive more wealth upward into their pockets.

My unions SAG -AFTRA, and the Writer’s Guild are in the middle of this fight. I’m not entirely confident we will get what we need. But even. some pushback is helpful, some sense that maybe this time we won’t fall for the silicon hype machine.

Embracing Authentic Art in an Uncertain Future

AI will be less than we are promised and more than we need, much like many other products of the last twenty years. When the smoke clears on this latest coded gold rush, the only tools required to create the art we truly need will be the pencil and the brush. The chisel. The tuned string. The fine hair of a mahogany bowl. The spiral of air down a silver flute. The blank page. The empty canvas. The ghost light on a waiting stage.

Perhaps it’s time to disrupt the disrupters. Perhaps we will now return to the discipline and mastering of technique, honor the gifts of our given creativity, and stand by the foundational ethics of our art. It is this art, this authentic art, that makes our pulse race and satisfies our deepest yearning—to get a glimpse, a hint of our true selves. Not an artifice, but a revelation.

We’ve been hearing for months within 2-5 years Artificial Intelligence could lead to the extinction of humanity. How could that be? Aren’t these systems to a large part benign and well under our control?

Currently, yes. In the future? We just don’t know. According to Cade Metz's article in The NY Times, a machine might go too far when asked to make paper clips and turn everything into a paper clip, even humanity.

I’ve read a lot of sci-fi and in none of it did anyone imagine a world of paper clips. There’s a deep illogic to the idea. A paper clip world serves no purpose. I guess it serves to prove that AI is non-sentient. It has no motivation. It just does as it told. And it’s easy to see why so many of us are terrified.

Trampling on Humanity and Ignoring Ethical Concerns

There’s no controlling this beast, no matter what Silicon Valley might say, no matter what ‘guardrails’ are put in place. See it for what it is. After twenty years, there can be no doubt; Silicon Valley operates without an ethical compass. The technology has hypnotized the most powerful among us and they operate with logic but no reason. The industry does not allow anything that questions its forward movement.

Writing in the Guardian, Ben Tarnoff examines computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum’s progression from a pioneer of artificial intelligence to a deeply skeptical voice raised against the dangers of our surrender to technology. ‘The revolution (Weizenbaum) not only lived through but centrally participated in, was actually a counter-revolution. It strengthened repressive power structures instead of upending them. It constricted rather than enlarged our humanity, prompting people to think of themselves as little more than machines. By ceding so many decisions to computers, Weizenbaum thought, we had created a world that was more unequal and less rational, in which the richness of human reason had been flattened into the senseless routines of code.’

At every turn, the disruptions of Silicon Valley have trampled on our sense of ourselves. The disruptions of Silicon Valley dehumanize our humanity. The result of a world that doesn’t care for us is a generation of humans that doesn’t care for themselves. Exploitation is written into the operating code of the emerging ruling class. All must serve the digital plantation, Master Muck and Master Zuck with the whip hand.

We're called 'unreasonable' for questioning the values of this new world, even though all we want is to pay rent and care for our families.

Embrace Authenticity over Artificiality: Challenge the Silicon Valley Hype Machine

Yes, I feel deceived. Yes, I feel betrayed. This was not the promise. Silicon Valley paints a rosy picture, but like the sci-fi show Silo, the rosy picture turns out to be a projection hiding a devastated landscape.

AI is not the answer when the question is who are we. The genuine crisis we face in the world needs an absence of technology, not an abundance. That is the simple truth of the matter. The unfolding beautiful essence of our humanity needs no voltage, it simply exists eternally in our hearts.

Remember that as we are swamped in the daily fevered tic-toc from the Digerati. Be skeptical of their mission and glassy-eyed stare, their tight smiles and rayon uniforms. Authentic intelligence beats artificial intelligence at every turn. Be confident in your spirit because the intelligence you need you were born with; we all are.

Our human code beats every artifice, our human code is authentic and true, imbued with an ethical sense of right and wrong. Trust it at every turn and use it to turn a skeptical eye on the empty promises of a perfect world crafted from zeros and ones.

I am no Luddite.

I am a working composer proficient in the technology used in modern music making. For the last 11-years I worked in the video game industry, an industry that exists on the bleeding edge of the technology front lines. What I am questioning here is an absence of ethics. What I am seeking is for technology to serve our humanity.

My Golden Prompt is to think for yourself, begin your creative process internally, with deep reflection. Look to make your creative process physical. Get your hands dirty, get your finger tips dipped in ink. Use the tools but forge solutions from your human spirit, not wired to a supercomputer, but connected directly to the physical world around you.

Don’t buy the Silicon Valley AI Hype Machine. Those people have the ethical compass of a used car lot. Your humanity lives above robot world and the robot masters. Treasure it.

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