“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.”
Almost exactly five years ago, I wrote the above paragraph in a column about the advancement of AI (artificial intelligence) into the reality of our daily lives.
I suppose I am a bit surprised that it has taken less than five years for it to actually move in. But bidden or unbidden, AI has already taken a chair in the room, vying somewhat stealthily, with questionable maturity and motivation, for an actual seat at the table.
In my original 2018 column, I focused on the supposition of the day: 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. They will become sentient – self-aware. Perhaps warranting equality of status with other living beings.”
We already knew back then that AI was programed for such intrinsically human abilities as composing music and writing poetry, creating art and choreographing dance. And yet, I questioned in my column if it would ever be able to express or, indeed, to experience the inherent spirituality within those acts themselves. I wondered, too, if AI could perceive beauty or connect with animals or know a sense of love; if it could comfort a crying baby or a dying soul or counsel a broken mind.
Currently, however, we seem to have veered away from that particular discussion and we’re being advised now to consider how AI will be able to assist us in our own daily work – specifically, how it will relieve us from the “tasky” things of life. The repetitive duties, the tiring research, the preparation of details, the boring bits – leaving the large picture, the creativity, the “important” functions to us humans.
And, personally, I would find that woefully regrettable.
For me, the very act of doing the “tasky” kinds of things in my own work – the researching, the looking up of facts and ideas, the sifting through old quotes and thoughts – is exactly what allows my mind and imagination to produce a creative and original end result. Such writing “tasks” as sorting through dusty old library books, taking notes by hand, even drilling down into archived computer data, is when I discover entirely new avenues and unexpected left turns in my work – found only by accident, not by intention or plan or outlines suitable for automated assistance.
As humans, we can listen to each other. We can write ideas down in longhand, and study them with our own insight, with common sense and sensitivity and gut reaction. We can learn from original thinkers who have gone before us, understanding their thoughts in context, with nuance, with instinct. With our humanity, we can ferret out truth from misinformation, reality from opinion.
Like a bird building its nest – making it strong bit by bit, twig by twig, feather by feather – when it feels just so, the eggs are then carefully laid inside. And the bird sits alone with them, steadfast and quiet, both resting and nurturing – all to bring forth new life. Hatching eggs.
Without performing our tasky work, we’re doing no more than gleaning from predefined gatherings of random thoughts and superficial findings – neatly sorted and compiled and presented to us in spiffy new folders. There’s not a twiggy nest in sight. There are no eggs to hatch.
AI may already be seated in the room with the door firmly closed behind it, lurking at my shoulder. But, as for me, I will prefer to hatch my own eggs. And that will be thrilling and it will be terrifying, and a little bit of both.