Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– Clarke’s third law
Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
– Gehm’s corollary to Clarke’s third law ( w )
The end of the internet boom is upon us. The low-hanging fruit has been gathered and the megacorps are building walls around their gardens.
Hardware was outpacing software for decades, following Moore’s Law, but now that jetpack has run out of fuel. Global computing power is going to stabilize against a background of energy crisis and climate disasters. We won’t be able to count on the constant throbbing metabolism of the data center or the rhythmic injections of venture money. All that innovation we were counting on will turn into bitter insurgent AIvertising ganglord shit.
Instead of burning the last of our fuel on self-driving electric vape guns, we could refine our technologies. Build better software. not more hardware.
Coders have been spoiled to ever-growing processing power, writing heaps more code for effectively the same software. Okay, spreadsheet software can now recognize a chart from a photo. Do we need the seventeen billion glossy widgets that come along with that? Does it justify a computer with a million times more power than the Apollo program?
Spreadsheets are a sixteenth-century ledger with a built-in Bob Cratchit to do your calculating . They’re not charming, not enchanting, not magical. They’re insufficiently advanced.
It’s clear that humanity will advance its technology. Already, some of our technical effects are so vast and mystifying that they might as well be magic – like the way we changed the planet’s atmosphere and climate. We must steer this transformation, lest it continue to destroy us. We must apply ourselves to the deliberate creation of magic.
All the elements are available now, or will be in the next few years. We just have to put them together in the right way.
It is said that there are five types of magic.
Enchantment: the wizard expresses their will into the physical world;
Divination: the wizard retrieves information from beyond their perception;
Invocation: the drawing-in of other beings to the wizard’s consciousness;
Evocation: the projection of other beings into the manifest world;
and Illumination: the work of self-transformation and epiphany.
Let’s make some magic: download a 3D shape you like from the internet. For example, a bust of Philip K. Dick. Print it on your 3D printer. Install a tiny computer and put color-changing lights in the eyes, sure. That’s creepy, but it’s still enchantment.
Log in to the tiny computer and write a script that searches the internet for weather information and changes the color of the eyes accordingly. You now have a divination machine that any emperor of history would envy.
You could install a speaker and a microphone. Play podcasts through it, or music to study to. Or chat with your friends while you simultaneously explore a virtual island (and kill each other for fun). You’re invoking experiences, voices and visions from elsewhere. Even turning on netfilx is an invocation, opening your consciousness wide for the content to stream in.
Put a little AI in there and you can evoke entities. Make it a smart speaker, speech parsed into text and then into intent and back. Generate nearly-real text with GPT-2, or nightmare creatures with DeepDream. Feed it all of PKD’s writings and speeches and make it speak new words in his voice. eVocation, electric voices whispering arcane secrets from the statistical deeps.
Illumination, there’s the tricky part. For all the self-quantification and smarmy time-tracking apps, we don’t know how to use technology to make ourselves better. Until we transcend our human flaws we can’t be sure what will be the best way to transcend our human flaws. When machines can make art and do science, what do we cling to? Can the algorithms teach us how to be human?
It does not do to make oneself obsolete. We need technologies to increase our intelligence, individual and collective. We already do this in our social realities, in the ways we teach and share and cooperate with each other. We must also do it in our technical evolution. As we make magic with our machines, we craft our future selves. We decide which powers we will seize and which we will discard. We invent the kind of gods we will become.
Perhaps only when we begin to see ourselves in the machines will we be illuminated. We must make ourselves, and our technologies, sufficiently advanced.
Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans.
— PKD’s Head (@pkd_head) March 1, 2019
Thanks for reading,
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