I am lying in bed in the not-quite-dark, listening to the voices. It is in that shadow space between night and daybreak – that fog-wrapped existence bridging sleep and wakefulness. The voices creep into my consciousness, and I lie very still, listening to their whispers. But no matter how hard I try, I can never quite understand the words; I simply hear the voices.
They sound rather otherworldly. They seem to come from a different plane of reality, a different dimension. And I wonder if there is some kind of slipstream of liminal time and place that allows them through. A “wrinkle in time” sort of thing. Or, as opera singer Robert Breault proposed, “What if, instead of a parallel universe, there’s a perpendicular universe?” – and the voices I hear are simply sliding into this reality out of their own. Or perhaps it is like how telephone wires used to crisscross conversations when we were hardwired into earth-bound communications.
I suspect, however, that these pre-dawn voices simply originate in the same place that becomes visible in my dreams. Like the reflected realities that live on the far side of mirrors and in darkened shop windows. As some wise person once observed: “Imagination is the parallel universe of a writer.”
Recently, I’ve been reading some very compelling discussions about artificial intelligence (AI). Throughout all the plans and predictions and scenarios of the future of AI there is woven the concept of computers eventually replacing and exceeding a myriad of human functions – from applied physics to eldercare, climate control to childbirth, medical experimentation to peace negotiations. It is either thrilling or terrifying and a bit of both, I suppose. And it is inevitable. We have already opened that door – and irrevocably closed it behind us.
The AI discussion involves the supposition that these constructed beings will be able to so closely simulate human functionality that they will even be able to become empathetic to us and develop feelings of their own. That they will become sentient – self-aware. Perhaps warranting equality of status with other living beings.
Computers are already programmed to compose music and write poetry, create art and choreograph dance. Perhaps one day they may even be able to comfort a crying baby and counsel a broken mind. Perhaps.
But I wonder if they will ever be able to perceive the beauty of a bird in flight, or know the emotion of love or regret, or connect with the heart of a horse or the soul of a dog, or explain the purr of a contented cat. Will they calm anyone’s fear with a touch? Will they ever experience the still small voice of God – or enjoy any sense of spirituality?
And, I suspect, regardless of their abilities to plan and foresee and create, to predict outcomes and eventualities, no machine will ever be able to replicate human imagination.
I suspect none of them will ever lie in bed, half awake, in the early pre-dawn of a day, and hear the whisper of voices.