Computer Still Says No

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Read in Dutch on The Fire Online

Humor is often prophetic. The sketch from Little Britain –‘Computer says No’– is exactly twenty years old. An unfriendly, cold-hearted hospital receptionist conveniently suspends all of her humanity and responsibility by obeying the computer in front of her, which, everyone knew, is an absurd and immoral thing to do. The lady ends up forcing a double hip replacement on a five-year-old girl, because the computer says so. Back then, the computer was considered a practical tool in the service of mankind, like the dishwasher.

So far the year 2024 has already brought us the implanting of the first Neuralink brain chip, Elon Musk paving the way for two versions of humans, and Apple started selling a new ‘Virtual Reality’ mask to spend more time in a Non-Reality, adding some gasoline to the fire for the growing amount of people with mental problems. These products promise to fill humanity’s existential voids, but they are nothing but detours instead of shortcuts to Utopia.

The Internet, AI and VR were developed by powerful institutions and at some point got released to the public. Their ascent has coincided with increases in productivity, but also regression in psychological, emotional and physical well-being, declines in intellectual and communicative capabilities and an increase in surveillance and control. They enhance the already overly dominant mechanical ways of thinking and they form the main foundation of the transhumanism ideology. A few weeks ago, Donald Trump said that he would never allow a Central Bank Digital Currency. This may sound like a comforting political promise today, but a few decades ago it would have been surreal and troubling. Never allow a what? Many sliding scales become visible when comparing our world to the pre-Internet days.

Despite the rising risks and costs, technology trends continue to be hyped by the promise of a better world. ‘Futurist’ Christian Kromme preaches his AI prophecy of hope without addressing the use of AI in warfare or social credit systems, where it allows for preprogrammed actions without human conscience. The headline of a recent interview stated ‘AI offers a chance of a more humane life’, which, of course, is also true of the dishwasher. One small risk, Kromme reluctantly acknowledged, is that AI could be used in ways ‘that do not match our human values’, which, of course, isn’t true of the dishwasher.

The deceptions are plentiful. What someone once named ‘Artificial Intelligence’ is by no means intelligent nor intelligence, because it is not part of a consciousness. AI are programmed, man-made tools that feign autonomous decision-making. Despite all the praise around the magical math of exponentiality and self-learning, which are, in fact, parts of nature and natural laws, the end results are artificial. In the history of the world, nothing artificial has survived long-term.

A few days ago, much attention went to ‘DignifAI’, an AI-tool that puts clothes on undignified images of women. A creative little initiative that sprung directly from human morality, or what can be called ‘Natural Intelligence’. The ‘Natural Intelligence’ that isn’t developed by an Industrial Complex, doesn’t employ PR teams and never makes any promises. It is intelligence: the invisible seed of life with its entire future already built into it, however mysterious its functionalities may be to humans. Its imperfections and unpredictability are part of its perfection, which is something mechanical thinkers often can’t comprehend, and when they do, they can’t accept it.

According to Plato all learning is a form of remembering, and no technological innovation will ever be able to remind us who we are and where we came from – the existential voids it promises to fill. On the contrary. But if solutions are to be found in the non-artificial, the natural, would they not have been found already? The reason why ‘natural immunity’ hashtags were made completely invisible on Meta’s social networks in 2021, is the same reason why governments have burned thousands of books, research papers and inventions related to natural phenomena during the past centuries. Technological trends are distractions, detours from the search for true knowledge and wisdom.

The idea of the inevitability of progress –continuous technological expansion as a Manifest Destiny– is a form of totalitarian thought, Russian thinker Alexander Dugin described in Marijn Poels’ 2018 documentary Paradogma. Only once this spell is broken will it no longer be the computers saying ‘no’ to the people, but the people resolving to once again saying ‘no’ to the computers.

In 1999, Prince dropped into silence before he gave the audience of a televised award-show a motherly warning:

‘Don’t be fooled by the Internet. It’s cool to get on the computer, don’t let the computer get on you. It’s cool to use the computer, don’t let the computer use you. You all saw The Matrix. There is a war going on, the battlefield is in the mind, and the prize is the soul. Just be careful. Be very careful.’

A quarter of a century later, his words often resurface far and wide, but what to do with them? Poet Charles Bukowski, in his 1967 book Tales of Ordinary Madness, wrote about what a wake-up call feels like: ‘If you’re losing your soul and you know it, then you’ve still got a soul left to lose.’

Published in Dutch on The Fire Online

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