Shumon Basar, Transcript: Tech Rewires our Thoughts

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Turi: [00:00:20] Shumon Basar. It’s great to have you on table talk. Um, I’m thrilled to be talking to you in the middle of a COVID lockdown, between deepest Herefordshire in the UK and Dubai. Shumon is a writer, editor, and curator, and we’re here to talk about his latest project called The Extreme Self. The Age of You Shumon: This comes in a sense as a follow on to your last big book, um, which talks about the Extreme Present: the Age of Earthquakes. You did it with, um, Hans Ulrich Obrist and with Douglas Coupland, um, can you give me a sense of what that book was about before we move into ‘You’?

Shumon: [00:01:17] Sure thing, Turi, it’s great to be talking to you. Um, and, uh, also from such dissimilar places, although maybe during the Corona scene, there’s no such thing as here or there anymore. We’re either both. Here or both there at the same time. Um, so the age of earthquakes came out of, um, our shared interest in the Canadian theorist media theorist, Marshall McLuhan. Um, some of your listeners may have heard of him may not have heard of him, but McLuhan became very famous in the late sixties, particularly after a book came out, um, bearing his name and the name of two other people. Jerome idle and Quentin Fiore. And that book was called the medium is the massage. It went on to sell a million copies and be one of the textbooks of the counter-cultural revolution in the late sixties and North America. Um, but in this book, uh, McLuhan’s theories, uh, about, uh, what he called the electric media. So radio, television, advertising magazines. Um, well sort of collided with this fantastic, uh, visual, um, journey, uh, that was also borrowed from all these different forms of electric media and, uh, was this kind of thrilling ride through all the ways in which. Uh, the world was changing through these new technologies. Um, but as McLuhan famously said, um, uh, every, uh, media is an extension of man or woman and that these extensions or these tools, we make tools and the tools we make us. Uh, another fascinating thing about McLuhan is that it’s as though he, he saw the future coming, but because he died in 1918, He never got to really live in the digital world that we’re now, uh, immersed in. And so we asked ourselves the question, what would McLuhan make of the world today? Um, and, uh, and so we then, uh, worked with a graphic designer called Wayne Dailey. We then, uh, wrote a text. Which, uh, set about to take, uh, those sorts of conceptual probes that McLuhan had set up in the, in the sixties and update them to the, uh, to the, to the 21st century. Um, we then crowdsourced images from 35 different visual artists all around the world. Uh, and this became a kind of quick-fire paperback also published by penguin who had published the medium is the massage back in 67. And you know, this became a sort of manifesto you could say for, uh, this, these forms of radical change that were happening to the world, but mainly through the atomization of time. And so this is, uh, What we mean by the extreme present and extreme present is what happens when there’s a sense that the future doesn’t exist anymore as something distant ahead of you, but instead your inhabiting it. Um, so you could take, you could take any number of scientific or technological discoveries from the last 15 odd years. Uh, they would not, uh, they would not seem out of place in science fiction from the 20th century. Uh, and then at the same time, there’s a sense in which the past, uh, is not something that you have to remember because you upload it, you upload it to hard drive, you upload it to the cloud. So what you’re left with is this very thin layer of time experience. Which is the extreme present. And, um, I would just add here that, uh, neurologist, um, agree very little about the neurology, the brains, um, the way in which the brain processes time. One thing that they do agree on is that the brain’s understanding of the present is somewhere between two and 2.5 seconds. Now that’s very, very interesting because if you, uh, hold down your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter feed. From the top of the screen and wait for it to load it’s around the same amount of time. So the extreme present is this extreme pleasantness that we are inhabiting a and then the book, as I say, went on to look at all the different kinds of consequences of that, um, you know, from politics to, um, to our inner lives and our kind of also also mystical and spiritual relationship to each other.

Turi: [00:06:29] Great. At the end of the extreme present, you described, you described McLuhan’s line that we make the tools and then the tools remake us that personal experience. Of, um, of where we are today, this thin layer of the present that you described the same. Um, it changes how we understand ourselves. Um, and poly has project of course, is to try and understand how opinions are made, where opinions come from, um, how they’re built, how they relate to our own sense of self. Um, Your latest project, the extreme self talks to this, this issue of the individual, um, surrounded by these tools, which are remaking them. Can you give me a quick spin around this idea of the extreme self recourse?

Shumon: [00:07:26] Well, the age of earthquakes came out in 2015. Um, we were then invited, uh, to. Conceive of a new project, a new exhibition at the museum of contemporary art in Toronto. Uh, and the invitation came in early 2017 at that point, w the three of us, uh, and I’m sure a large, uh, proportion of the planet. I think we’re still in a kind of PTSD or sort of post-traumatic. Stress disorder, uh, over the various events that unfolded in 2016. Uh, of course, uh, there was Brexit, there was, um, the, uh, the black wall you could say as the kind of black Swan event or the us election in November, 2016, but we would go right back to actually January the 10th, which is when David Barry died. Um, and you know, we very seriously contend that we’re now somehow living in the, in the world, uh, that, uh, has been left behind. Now that power has gone. And one of the other things that happened in 2016, which I think we only came to learn a couple of years later, particularly I think when, uh, the Netflix documentary great hat came out was the role that data and the manipulation of data, um, played. In all in these events that now retroactively seem like, uh, the kind of reformatting of history and of the future. And, and so I think what the extreme South is, is our attempt to search for the question of what has happened to the individual, to the South, but also to the crowd in the collective when, uh, Data, uh, has, um, uh, effectively become the most valuable resource in the world. Um, you know, we talk about the 20th century being, uh, the century of fossil capitalism. Well, of course, we now into the age of surveillance, capitalism to use Shoshana Zuboff term, computational capitalism, data capitalism in fossil capitalism. We would go and drill the seas, uh, drill the ground. We would frack the earth effectively, uh, to, for it to release it’s Petro, carbon, or methane, um, uh, bounty for us, um, in the age of surveillance and data capitalism, we are the ones who were being fracked. And so. That I think there’s a very what’s happened since 2016 is a very profound, uh, reorientation. I think. Uh, it’s what I call a Neo Copernican, uh, move. If Copernicus was the moment where we were able to do, uh, as a, as a species able to displace ourselves from the center of, uh, an imagining of the cosmos to, uh, You know, merely being one planet amongst the kind of infinity of the universe. I think what’s happened since 2016 effectively, uh, is that we are now, uh, the centers of each of our universities and, um, And, and this is very, uh, this has been done very, very strategically. Uh, and this, uh, is the kind of, uh, is the, is the engineering of, uh, this new economy. But of course the new economy also produces all kinds of new, uh, effects and epi epi effects. Uh, again, in terms of how power works. So they’re looking at it at the macro scale, but then down to the kind of nanoscale about how we perceive ourselves in relation to others or in relation to ourselves. And so the book, uh, over the course of 13 chapters moves from, uh, from these different scales, from the very, very small to the very, very large. To look at what has become to the individual now that our relationship to data and data’s relationship to us, I think has lost any possible semblance of, of innocence. I think before 2016, we, we w we were implicated in all of these dynamics, but we certainly didn’t know about how deeply, uh, kind of complicit we were, uh, and also what the kind of broad, uh, broad ranging effects and profound, um, changes that, uh, that they were, uh, that they were, you know, kind of weaken upon us.

Turi: [00:12:34] I’m particularly fascinated by what this, what this does to our sense of selves, um, the economic relationships that you’re just describing. Um, I think, uh, other for all of us to see, um, there’s a huge backlash. As this became conscious as we became conscious of, um, being the product ourselves, um, or being the resource, being the natural resource the backlash has, but not in the backlash began HOD. Um, but, um, there’s been, I mean, historically for the last 20 years or so, there’s been shockingly little smart critique of what technology does to us as a society. Do I sense yourselves? Um, as I sat inside tech journalism or peripheral to tech journalism, it was. For 15 years, we’ve had PR we’ve had brilliant new companies changing the world. We’ve had very little critique of what they do to us. But having looked at this slide, you, um, over the last 15, 15 years or so very much from a media perspective, certain things we’ve seen coming. Um, one of the things which struck has struck me for a while now is that, um, We don’t and I know you, and I agree on this. We don’t really see ourselves as narratives anymore. Um, I think this in the context of journalism, old days, an article was written behind closed doors, edited behind closed doors and published in a newspaper to be seen the next day. The live blog was sort of the unstitched thing of that article. You could see it being made. You could see all the data points thrown up, um, in a, in a, in, in a, in a chronology, without it being a narrative. And I think with the mass proliferation of information, um, we think of. News. And we think of, we think of news. We think of, of the media as a series of data points rather than as a narrative. But I think your idea is that this goes further, isn’t it? The individual therefore stops thinking of himself or herself as a narrative. What is that? Is that, is that right? And what is replaced? What replaces that sense of narrative?

Shumon: [00:14:49] Absolutely. I mean, the, the. Beginning of, um, the age of earthquakes, um, starts with the question. Have you maybe noticed that our lives are no longer feeling like stories? Our lives are becoming a lineup of tasks? Our sense of time is beginning to shrink. And w you know, in that book, we, we came up with a number of neologisms. Dean duration was one of these. So the sense that your life no longer feels like. Like a story. And, um, and I think this is certainly one of the consequences of this kind of radical atomization of time. Uh, because, uh, in the, in the new book we say, well, uh, the past either feels 10 minutes or 10 years ago. Um, and I think this is one of, one of many ways in which. No, I think, uh, every aspect of our, uh, of our lives and our reality have been stretched apart to these extremes. Um, so, uh, and this means that, uh, you know, the center has been kind of hollowed out effectively. Um, and I mean, that has a lot to do with, of course, with just the sheer amount of, uh, of information intake. You know, if you think about the number of images that somebody from the 16th century would have taken in from dusk till Dawn to somebody in 2020, um, the number of, kind of visual oral sensory stimuli. Um, but also kind of just the, the sort of kaufmanni kind of asteroid cacophony of, uh, of, of, um, To, to use your words, opinions, counter opinions, um, you know, it’s, uh, it’s almost income in comprehensible and this has, I think, a, um, uh, kind of warping effect of course, on, uh, on time, but also of, uh, of narratives. Um, But, you know, th th this also, I think, is nestled in other larger scale, um, uh, forces. So the idea of a job for life, um, and, and here, I think, you know, we, we always need to look at it Japan as a kind of sociological, uh, Canary in the, in the coal mine, uh, for where the rest of us will be going, you know, The whole, uh, idea that Japanese society, uh, it’s kind of a mythical sense of, uh, oldness of, uh, like very carefully striated generational, uh, performativity, you know, was based around this idea that you would enter into a company and you would have a job for life. That job would then give you a secure retirement. Uh, and, and so on and, you know, repeat, repeat, repeat. Um, I think now, uh, the idea of a job for life. Uh, is nothing more than a kind of, uh, you know, cruel joke from the past. Uh, we would all expect to be doing countless number of things. We’d probably all expect to have to reeducate ourselves to retool our imagination and our knowledge every few years. Um, so, you know, uh, there, I think there are many ways in which the sense of Dina ration. Happens both from the inside and the outside. Um, and you know, I think part of this are, uh, partly consequences of these kind of technological takeover that happens internally. Um, but there are also consequences, I think, of much larger forces, uh, which are political and economic, uh, and to do with kind of economic macro systems that, you know, uh, that inform the kind of waves of waves of history.

Turi: [00:18:58] If, if we’re not narratives, if we can’t tell stories about ourselves, because we’ve got on the one hand, um, no clear models anymore, cause changes the past. Um, and because we’re just overloaded by information surplus, w what else do we become? What do we, what are we to ourselves? Are we performances for ourselves in Instagram generation would say we are… Does that, does that make sense to you a week? Do you think, do you think of us as external performances? Are we constantly gesturing to our, to, to, to who we are?

Shumon: [00:19:36] sorry, go ahead. No, I mean, I think we’ve, we’ve always, I mean, we’ve always been performative, I think. Um, but the question is, you know, who have we performed to, uh, and why. And I think, you know, those, um, that metric changes through time. Um, we now, uh, many of us now perform on. Platforms that are highly engineered by some of the world’s most gifted engineers. So one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how in the medieval time, the most gifted engineers and gifted mathematicians would have been building something like shock, uh, you know, uh, these. Kind of, um, symbolic, um, machines for, in order to praise cathedral chart cathedral. Yes. Um, and, uh, but now, you know, our brightest minds are that to, uh, engineer code that ultimately engineers are emotion. And so I think one of the things that we are dealing with in, in the new book is the idea that, um, you know, you may think that the feeling that you’re feeling is happening because of you, but in reality, that’s actually a performance that’s being scripted by some very clever. Set of engineers, either in Silicon Valley or insurance and all that wherever. And you know, and so, um, you know, I think the, the question of performance is very, very important because performance is how, I mean performance is how we, um, render ourselves present to. One another to the world to an imagined audience, um, but also to ourselves. Um, and, but I mean, not to be, you know, too kind of conspiratorial about it because I don’t think it’s a conspiracy theory. I just think it’s, it’s just blatant facts that, um, there’s a. We made, uh, we’ve been told that the nature of authenticity of our authentic self, um, looks and feels like this, but in fact it’s anything but authentic, right? So I mean, it it’s highly engineered. And so, um, but what I find interesting is even though, you know, many of us now know that to be the case, I don’t see, you know, a kind of mass Exodus from, from these platforms. Um,

Turi: [00:22:41] I just check that. I know what you mean. Do you mean you mean that the, that the polished perfect image of somebody on Instagram that they pretend that they, that they project on Instagram? We know it’s rubbish. Is that, is that what you mean? But we’re, we’ve, we’ve begun to full it. We continue to, we continue to be engaged in this production, despite knowing that it’s not true. Is that what you mean?

Shumon: [00:23:00] Yes. But also that we know that our, you know, every bit of information that we, that we share is, you know, is being put to other other uses. Um, you know, first and foremost has to sell us stuff. But also, uh, much, you know, in a much deeper sense to, to alter the, the course of history. Right. And, and to do it in a way that is not, uh, is not authentic, uh, to let’s say what you signed up for in the first place. Um, but, uh, nevertheless, the, the kind of addictive affirmative, um, You know, sensations and affirmation that, that, that it gives you is still too high of a price. It seems to me for most people and I include myself. Yeah. Um, give up, you know?

Turi: [00:24:00] I’m, I’m fascinated by your, your beautiful, uh, image of shocked cathedral. So you have the greatest minds and architects and designers and engineers of the day building a projection of meaning. Um, decided from on high, a series of narratives, if you want, which were clearly established, came out of one book, um, and which were then, um, built up into this giant sort of projection of projection, of truth, projection of meanings that people would go to worship at and sort of define their lives by. What you’ve described is the equivalent great engineers, designers, architects, and the rest building platforms, which we write down our own emotions on which we perform ourselves. That’s a massive shift and a very beautiful one on the one hand in so far as it allows everyone a voice, it allows everyone to truth, to perform rather than having to take it from the Archbishop or the Cardinal. Um, but it does very, very strange things to, uh, um, I suppose our sense of our sense of collective self, a sense of community, precisely because there are so many different divergent narratives. Um, and, um, we find it very difficult. Therefore not only to situate ourselves as, uh, as individuals is narrative because there’s narratives of fractured, but also as groups as society. Um, what I want to ask you here is if, um, new tech. Changes how we think of ourselves as individuals. It also changes it also changes the crowd. So what does, what does the w where do you think the crowd is today? What do you think technology has done to the

Shumon: [00:25:39] crowd? Yeah. On, on that, I think, let me just, I want to read you a little. But, um, from the, from the new book though, I think speaks to this, um, also in relation to, uh, uh, th the gap between chocolate to cathedral and today. So we, right, historically speaking, even during the most divisive times, people agreed on certain basic common truths, such as the sun is in the sky or fish swim in the sea. Our senses shaped. This kind of consensus. There are people today who think school shootings are hoaxes. There are people who won’t vaccinate their children. The breakdown of consensus based reality is perhaps one of the most dangerous threats there has ever been to shared human experience. Is there any turning back. Um, so, you know, I’ve been, I, I thought of that, um, because backdrop to our conversation today is about the question of, of opinions, uh, how opinions get fooled, where they get formed and what the consequences of that. Uh, um, but I think. The question then of the individual versus the crowd, uh, you know, has to be looked at, I think in terms of, uh, of this, uh, kind of evolution into, uh, you know, a total, um, I think, uh, like balkanization of, of, of consensus because consensus. Uh, you know, our allows surely for, uh, the, uh, the building blocks of something that you might begin to call, uh, the truth. Now, if, if there is no consensus anymore, uh, if, if I decide that the truth is simply what I choose to believe, uh, and reverse engineer from that, um, Then, you know, then, uh, then I, the question, I mean, I, you simply don’t have any, any kind of truth that bears any kind of resemblance, I think, to what we’ve considered it to have been for thousands of years.

Turi: [00:28:08] Why has that taken place?

Shumon: [00:28:12] It has, well it’s, I think it’s taken place. Um, Because of, uh, this kind of, um, radical, almost infinite atomization of, uh, uh, of information inputs that now, you know, uh, is again, engineered through these platforms, through the feeds, um, of which, you know, Uh, these are things that can be and have been gained right by, uh, you know, whether it’s someone like, uh, largest love circle in Russia or, uh, you know, the, the, the equivalent in the United Kingdom, certain, uh, mr. Cummings, um, you know, the, I know he would, um, uh, you know, I think. The, uh, the idea that, um, I mean in a way, I mean, this is what they’ve been a lot of discourse about this, I think since 2016, that was one of the things that we saw was, uh, the, um, instrumentalization of postmodern theory from the eighties and the nineties, which was very, you know, which used to came out of very leftist, Marxist, um, University settings, you know, whether it’s Derrida Beaudry are all the sort of people who were at that point, you know, um, talking about, uh, deconstruction and re uh, relativity in relation in order to displace, um, you know, patriarchal, um, uh, and other forms of like historically and out, um, power. Uh, and to, to displace those centers of power, uh, old, something, you know, more, uh, faithfully representative of a heterogeneous, uh, world. Um, I think, you know what we’ve seen in since 2016 and in here, and Angela Nagle’s book kill all normies, I think is very good and very important. Uh, you know, the, the, the, the way in which the rights were, you know, I mean, basically the right are much better at making means than the left. Uh, and so the, you know, the meme, I think has been a perfect, uh, kind of vehicle through which this kind of info, um, consensus balkanization has, has taken place, you know, to the, to the point where, you know, something like the pizza gate. I mean, I’m very interested now in what’s happening in the UK, uh, this kind of, um, Neo Luddite. Um, you know, I’m going to war with 5g, um, like the burning down of, uh, home, uh, uh, transmitter posts, um, You know, I think back to pizza gate, um, again, sort of 2016 phenomenon, um, that weirdly brought together, you know, the performance artists, Marina Abramovich and various other people from the cultural elite, uh, into some like fantastical story that involved Peter and pizza. Um, and as you know, and it sort of, so the more ludicrous. The the, the, the, the narrative, um, you know, the more effective and authentic, it seems to be to many, many people. Um, and, and I think this is only possible in an environment where that, you know, that there seem to be no more objective, uh, you know, kind of, um, uh, landing points that. Uh, somebody could say, well, hold on a minute, you know, uh, but look at this, you know, can we just, can we agree on this? Like, can we at least agree on this? I feel like that, that is, that has gone. And, um, and I, and I think this is where, yeah. And I think that’s, uh, you know, for the, for the, for the sort of politically savvy and the politically kind of ingenious. It’s a fantastic, um, space in which to further, you know, whatever, um, kind of extreme agenda you might have, which then takes us back to the extreme self. Uh, and one of the pages in the new book says, uh, you know, it just has the words, the center is for losers. Um, and it feels now to me anyway, that. Um, you know, uh, having a voice from the center is, uh, as good as having no voice at all today. Um, exactly. Yeah.

Turi: [00:33:23] I think that’s. It’s something resonates very strongly with me. The sense the, that the right has picked. I mean, it resonates strongly with me, obviously because I am a centrist dad, but, uh, but beyond that, also this idea that the right picked up all the tools of the left from the 1970s and reuse them, um, outrage as a political gesture, gas lighting as a, as a, as a political move. Um, very, very strong reliance on free speech. This whole freestyle. Speech narratives that the, that the writers picked up, which used to be, of course the, um, the, um, uh, the terrain of the left. It’s fascinating how these things have inversed. Um, it also strikes me again to your point of age of, uh, of extremes and the extreme self that we’re in one of those peculiar periods where that we’re power and its opposite of both of the same bent. So. Or all the governments of the Western world and now broadly right-wing and all, all hard opposition of the most extreme kind is also right-wing. Um, not shade, patchy, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, um, attack the real contestation that seems to come. From further. Right. So that’s fascinating because of course, if it’s also an echo of the seventies where it was exactly the other way around the left and the hard left was, um, was opposition to that. You have a great friend, um, who I have huge respect for called James bridle. Who wrote a book called the new dark age about technology talks to this very particular phenomenon of information surplus, which you’ve been describing here. Um, um, as having two strong effects, um, he calls it myth or silence, um, and, um, But broadly in an age of information, surplus where narratives are destroyed. People find it very difficult to anchor their sense of selves. Um, and they’re bombarded with all sorts of contradictory content. Um, there are two standard reactions. The first is apathy. Silence just can’t deal with it. No idea how it fits together. Somebody else will figure it out. I give up and the other is. Myth, which is to say conspiracy, which is desperate attempt to order the world around you. Um, and when there’s that much information and that many conflicting contested narratives coming your way, um, the only way to order the narrative is to go is to, is to really bring big order to it. It’s the Jews, it’s the aliens. If something else it’s a huge cosmic ordering process, because there’s just cause it’s too complicated to deal with. Otherwise, both those. Approaches, both those responses, both myth and silence, both conspiracy and apathy are spectacular boons to populism because populism, uh, answers so easily. Um, th those, uh, Those desires and that’s precisely what we trying to, trying to work against. Um, as we think about the ways opinion, opinions work. Can I pick up one last one last question for you? Um,

Shumon: [00:36:36] but could, sorry, could I just, address that? Because I think, um, you know, it’s, it’s, it seems to me as though, you know, one of the. Um, synonyms we could attach to the idea of the center would be something like nuance. And so if, you know, if the center is now for loses, it seems to me, nuance is also now for news, for losers. And the thing about using nuance is that it is by definition, gradated and subtle and complex. And, um, and, and this is, this is where, you know, my, um, optimism, fuel tank, um, runs very, very low because I firmly believe that, you know, uh, uh, an ethically functioning society, um, has to be able to comprehend and practice nuance, but. Me saying that I think makes me sound like a, kind of a style chick from another planet. Um, because everything it seems to me is, uh, stacked against that now. Um, and, uh, you know, one of the chapters in our, in the new book is called the comment section is the real world. And, you know, I say that, well, if you really want to know where the state of politics is today, just go to a news article and then scroll down to about 32nd comment. And that’s where you will you’ll find it. Um, you know, most of us think of the comment section as a kind of. Uh, surplus sewer, um, to, you know, real debate or to real discourse. But there was an interesting article that I read about teenagers and how they navigate a page, a page on, uh, online. Uh, and whereas those of us who are gen X and above, you know, would, would move very diligently from the top. Of, uh, of the page down to the bottom and maybe not even bother with the comment section because we know it’s a kind of cess cesspit. Um, it was said that well, the way in which, you know, a young, a much younger person navigates the page is rat is act literally the other way around. They will start in the comment section first. Okay. And they may not even bother to read the main article at all, uh, and what they’re doing and how they’re navigating the comment section is not the way that we might, which is to move successively downwards and look at the argument, the counter argument, um, they’re scanning it to look for those opinions expressed that verify or outrage, the ones that they already possess. Um, and for me, that’s actually a really, uh, useful way of visualizing, I think, um, the kind of drastic shift, um, uh, and, and, and for me that that’s also a very acute picture of, you know, What is an opinion today, or how do opinions get formed? How are they informed? Um, because it seems to me in many, many, many cases now it’s though has on death is much more that you form your opinion first, and then you seek, uh, to have it, um, validated. In the media that you, you know, you then go and look at and read. Uh, and that seems to me a very, very different way of forming and shaping opinion than would have been even just a few years ago.

Turi: [00:40:57] That’s fascinating. I come at this with more optimism. Um, yeah. Again, again, data, the very worst sharers of fake news, uh, um, uh, old gen Xs. And they’re the ones who were brought up with, um, a kind of deep faith that what they saw published had come from someplace that will party they’re the ones who’ve been most, um, blindsided by that, by the new technologies. The the, the inherent, um, untrustworthiness of those technologies. And we’re seeing it, we’re seeing it with in coronavirus as well. It’s my parents’ generation that are sending through the fake things so much more dangerous for them of course. But, um, but they’re the ones in trouble there. Yeah. Gen Z millennials, I think are far smarter, far more media savvy. They’re far more media literate. Um, obviously these are technologies which are theirs. so, um, so I’m, I feel in very good hands with the next generation coming up. And I wonder whether there’s an element of youth. Being more opinionated because they can, because there’s less in hock to the systems that, um, that they beat that they’ve, that they’ve brought up in. They’ve been brought up in. So I, I’m slightly more, more positive that, but I hear you…

Shumon: I, I think that’s an important point. I think, I think those of us, you know, as Doug, uh, Uh, doc, uh, has said, um, many times Copeland says, you know, I miss my pre-internet brain. Um, but that’s, you know, for many, for many people now, uh, your kids, for example, um, there will have been no pre-internet brain. And I think the thing about a pre-internet brain, uh, and in that sense, you’re absolutely right. That is gen X and above. Who have had to adapt to, uh, and in many cases I think adapt kind of, uh, miserably and with great kind of, um, uh, you know, great kind of imperfection. It seems to me to the new regime. Uh, I think if it’s already in your, you know, if it’s already in your system, Um, you, that, that doesn’t need to be that, that doesn’t basically need to be catch up. It seems to me, and hopefully you’re also therefore born with, um, the necessary kind of tactics and strategies and like immunology even, um, that I think many of us that are older, uh, perhaps now, you know, in a sense never became inoculated with. Right. So, which means that. Um, you know, if something appears on your screen and on your feed and it doesn’t matter what it is, you just assume that it’s true. Um, whereas I think you’re in that sense, you are right that, um, the, sort of the, the tools of vigilance for, you know, the much younger generation should be, and I hope will be a lot more, um, you know, uh, a lot sharper, robust. Uh, and intelligent than ours.

Turi: [00:44:29] Yep. Nope. Um, so back for my, my last question to you, really back to that, back to this, this notion of the self, I have lived in a state of sort of permanent permanent anxiety. I live in a state of permanent, mild anxiety anyway, but, um, but for the last few years, very much in relationship in relation to artificial intelligence because, um, because I think it, it does rejig. The space available for humans to be the cool thing to be unique. And, um, so where it hits me is the sense that, um, if we are thinking of everything computationally, we’re thinking if a great new technological advance is this capacity to, to compute at giant scale, to build, uh, to build artificial intelligence and therefore reasoning. Rationalization, um, is no longer purely the preserve of humans. The thing which differentiates us from animals, the things which, the thing, which differentiates us from everything else, it was reason which, um, which gave us a sense of uniqueness. We don’t have that anymore. I keep on one during weather, the rise of AI changes, um, the space that reduces the space that we have to be ourselves in that sense. So, and whether therefore, if ration, if the capacity to reason, if the capacity to, to, to, to work through arguments, ideas, et cetera, rationally stops becoming the thing, which makes us who we are because AI does it better. Does that push us towards something else? Do we then start having to define ourselves in different ways? This is so it makes, it makes me ask, does our obsession with the authentic, with feeling with subjective experience, with emotion, with outrage, et cetera, is that actually accelerated by this counter story, which is the rise of. General artificial intelligence. That actually the only thing that humans get to do, um, unlike anybody else and like anything else is feel do do so. I’m, I’m wondering whether this we’re, we’re sort of we’re edging towards a consciously we’re edging towards a sort of a post enlightenment sense of who we are and where our values are.

Shumon: [00:46:53] And I think that that’s, that’s kind of, it’s a really interesting, you know, like schema I would, um, you know, I’m very, you know, I think you sort of, uh, started out sort of saying that, uh, you know, there’s been very little. Really genuinely, you know, kosher things written about technology, um, uh, and how, you know, technology is changing us and our relationship to each other. I would, I would, I would apply that to the cultural role of AI. Um, I think most of the things that have been said about it, um, are. You know, uh, are crass, callous and wishful at best. Um, and, and actually most of it, it seems to be comes from, you know, comes from, uh, from fiction, from science fiction, um, a sort of strange, uh, like fatalistic wish to want to be starring in, um, some of our best love. Phil nightmares. Hmm. You’ll know this, I know this, that, um, you know, most forms of, uh, what we call AI today are narrow. Uh, we are nowhere close to something called general, uh, artificial intelligence. Um, and most of it is really, uh, you know, is machine learning. It’s very, you know, it’s very efficient forms of computational processing. Um, you know, and one of my favorites, I can’t remember who said this, but, uh, you know, favorite ways of thinking about this is, you know, a computer will be able probably be able to beat you at chess, but it doesn’t know what chess is. So. You know, you ask, you could ask it and he would have no idea, but he would beat the pants off you. Of course. Um, so I think these, the question of, you know, of why, of how, of, how all of these things are sort of situated and nest nest within each other, in these kinds of complex forms of, you know, sociological, philosophical, ethical, emotional nuanced, use that word again. But my God, I think we. We are light years away from that from, from, you know, computers or AI doing that. Why would I want them to do that? Uh, at all, it seems to me, uh, also a kind of, um, important question to ask, um, the best. Uh, but I do, I do see a positive kind of aspect to, um, uh, to the, you know, many of these kinds of quests, uh, and questions that are coming up because, uh, I think. The CA you know, you can’t think of artificial intelligence without thinking about non artificial intelligence, I, your own intelligence or, you know, and so the question, it, those questions that you, uh, about values about where we get our sense of meaning. I, I agree. I mean, if, if AI can act as a kind of, um, You know, like a sort of critical mirror that forces us to ask, uh, the important questions about ourselves. Then I think this is one of it. Greatest to use James is Ray’s hit greatest like surplus values that maybe we didn’t intend for it to have, but I think it has to have, and here I would just add that it’s, there’s, there’s a paper, one of our guests at the global art forum, which is a summit that I put together each year. Uh, uh, one year we did a, uh, an addition which is called I am not a robot. So it was looking at questions of alternation. Um, Uh, we invited a Spanish, uh, philosopher and he’d written a paper about, uh, you know, uh, what would happen if, uh, if you based AI around Eastern conceptions of mind? Because a lot of what w again, we take for granted. Uh, that when we talk about intelligence that we’re talking about models of mind, but those models are often assumed to be Western, uh, you know, post Cartesian ideas of, of, uh, of, of, of the mind now, you know, Shinto is, um, um, uh, Buddhism have very, very different. Notions of what the, what the mine’s relationship is to the body, uh, what the mine’s relationship is to other mines. And so, you know, if you were to start building, uh, AI around those concepts, that you’d get something very, very different. It seems to me that. Then what you than what you get from a kind of Anglo Saxon tradition post like Marvin Minsky in the fifties. Um, but again, I think maybe the most interesting thing there is not whether or not we can build an AI, uh, that somehow mimics what it is to be a Buddhist or a Shintoist. But rather that we bring to the surface, the fact that there are different conceptions of mine. Uh, and that those different conceptions of mind leads to different kinds of ethics, different relationships to bodies, to flesh, to matter to material, to history and to the future. Right? So, so to me, this, this is where I, you know, I think our, our search for, or our investigation with, with artificial hopefully, uh, will, uh, could bring us a new kind of enlightenment.

Turi: [00:53:02] That is much, much more optimistic than mine, which was my, my, my view here, which is that, uh, our obsession with, um, with artificial intelligence, which as you say, as many miles as we are from my generalized artificial intelligence, just this conception that a machine can do this reasoning would back us into a corner where all we can do is feeling. And that was very, very frightening. But I think your, your version of this, which is that actually it. That, um, being able to perform this great, the height of human capacity, which is reasoning at a scale infinitely, infinite, what humans can do, forces us to think about who we are and a slightly broader level. That that’s a beautiful thing. Um, it’s also a beautiful thing to end on Sherman. Thanks so much for, um, for talking to us today. This has been fascinating.

Shumon: [00:53:54] Thank you so much, Turi. It’s a great, always great to talk to you.

This page was last edited on Friday, 30 Oct 2020 at 12:15 UTC