If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
“I like the number eight. When you turn it through 180 degrees, it becomes infinity.”
Hans Ulrich Obrist, quoted in the Financial Times, 4/5 August 2018.
LATER Clive Page emails to point out that the trick only works if you rotate 8 through 90 degrees! Which is embarrassing for the esteemed FT sub-editors, not to mention this blogger!
I’m reading Nick Harkaway’s new novel, Gnomon which, like Dave Eggars’s The Circle, provides a gripping insight into our surveillance-driven future.
Before publication, Harkaway wrote an interesting blog post about why he embarked on the book. Here’s an excerpt from that post:
I remember the days.
I remember the halcyon days of 2014, when I started writing Gnomon and I thought I was going to produce a short book (ha ha ha) in a kind of Umberto Eco-Winterson-Borges mode, maybe with a dash of Bradbury and PKD, and it would be about realities and unreliable narrators and criminal angels in prisons made of time, and bankers and alchemists, and it would also be a warning about the dangers of creeping authoritarianism. (And no, you’re right: creatively speaking I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into.)
I remember the luxury of saying “we must be precautionary about surveillance laws, about human rights violations, because one day the liberal democracies might start electing monsters and making bad pathways, and we’ll want solid protections from our governments’ over-reach.”
I remember the halcyon days of April 2016 when I thought I’d missed the boat and I hadn’t written a warning at all, but a sort of melancholic state of the nation, and I really did think things might get better from there. Then Brexit came – I was half expecting that – and then Trump – which I was really not – and now here we are, with the UK boiling as May’s government and Corbyn’s Labour sit on their hands and clock ticks down and the negotiating table is blank except for a few sheets of crumpled scrap paper, and the only global certainty seems to be that this US administration will try to wreck every decent thing the international community has attempted in my lifetime, with the occasional connivance of our own leaders when they aren’t busy tearing one another to bits.
And now I’m pretty sure I did write a warning after all.
This morning’s Observer column:
”Any sufficiently advanced technology,” wrote the sci-fi eminence grise Arthur C Clarke, “is indistinguishable from magic.” This quotation, endlessly recycled by tech boosters, is possibly the most pernicious utterance Clarke ever made because it encourages hypnotised wonderment and disables our critical faculties. For if something is “magic” then by definition it is inexplicable. There’s no point in asking questions about it; just accept it for what it is, lie back and suspend disbelief.
Currently, the technology that most attracts magical thinking is artificial intelligence (AI). Enthusiasts portray it as the most important thing since the invention of the wheel. Pessimists view it as an existential threat to humanity: the first “superintelligent” machine we build will be the beginning of the end for humankind; the only question thereafter will be whether smart machines will keep us as pets.
In both cases there seems to be an inverse correlation between the intensity of people’s convictions about AI and their actual knowledge of the technology…