Bright Lights

Perhaps I should watch Matrix Reloaded again. Did the Oracle say that  choices have been made, you do not make your choices? I have been thinking hard about why and how I have come to  make and not make certain choices. It is not that I did not know what I did not like.

I have a tendency to plummet into something without any real plans or deviate from my original PLAN. You now know that since that  something was a business partnership, you really should know who you were dealing with. Optimism can overshadow the risk of not seeing the real problems and end up undertaking challenges that are not necessary.

When Neo went to the Oracle, she said to him.

Because you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand *why* you made it. I thought you’d have figured that out by now.

The Oracle knows what Neo’s choice would be.

We can’t see past the choices we don’t understand, says the Oracle.

We can never see beyond a choice we don’t understand. Did the Oracle also say this

Perhaps those choices of mine just happened due to where I was then.

The Oracle is a programme that is designed to do what she does. What if we are just programmes that are designed to do what we do. Most of us chug along and fall in line with the developments and changing landscapes around us and carry on playing the part we land ourselves in. Even though everyone of us is not that different in terms of our needs and aspirations, we need the resolve and wits to live the life we like to have . If there is a crisis, it might be every man for himself due to our survival instinct. But what if it is greed and not need that makes some people want more ?

I recently made a trip. After checking in my flight ,I received a text from the airline company advising that my flight had been re-timed. It had been brought forward by five hours and that meant my departure time would be at the unearthly hour of 4.30 am. The message suggested that I could talk to their online assistant to consider my options. We all know how it is when you communicate with these chatbots. You need to be concise with your questions. I had a situation. I no longer wanted to go on the flight but my spouse had to. I no longer could split the booking after checking in our flights. What did I do? So I wrote an email and what did I get? A response to say that I could chat with their online assistant and they would be following up with my case. It has been ten days since, I have not heard from the airline except an email asking me to rate their services. Welcome to the age of automation.

AI has arrived.Technological advances have impacted our lives in more ways than what one can ever imagine. With increased dependence on technology, do you think we are progressing when we spend half our time on our laptops and phone apps ?

In A Strange and Brilliant Light, the debut novel by Eli Lee, Lalita, Janetta and Rose are living in a time of flux. Large swathes of the population are losing their jobs to artificial intelligence as auts of all shapes and sizes move into the workplace. Popotops, their local coffee shop is replacing their employees with AI. These auts are programmed to offer a cheering greeting as well as dispensing cake, cappuccinos and black sand teas in half the time Rose and Lal can do. It seems that you do not need to do anything as the server aut can scan your body and track wherever your payment device is. Janetta is Lal’s intelligent older sister who is doing her Ph.D and she is trying to come up with the coding for making auts empathetic. What if AIs can have consciousness ? In the meantime Lal gets out of the coffeeshop and gets herself a job at Tekna the giant corporation that has acquired Popotops. Tekna is dispensing all these auts to replace the workers. Lal’s childhood friend, Rose is disgusted that Lal is focusing on gaining her financial security and Lal tries to tell her that she is doing it for the family. Rose does not know that Lal is miserable working at her new job in Dhont, Mejira as the employees at Tekna are so afraid of losing their jobs that they do not have time for one another.

Here is an excerpt describing Lal’s workplace at Tekna.

On Monday morning she was late- she was earlier that she’d ever been, but she was still late. She realised as soon as she got to work – seven-thirty in the morning and everyone else at their desks. Had there been an announcement that they were meant to come in earlier? A meeting, an email, some sort of alert? She thought she’d get ahead of things, but now there was evern more to get ahead of. No one looked up when she came in – it wasn’t that kind of place -but she felt there was something on her now, a mark of shame for being the last in. She felt she should apologise, but that wasn’t the way things were done. The way things were done was that you sank into your seat and remained sunk ; you kept your eyes on your screen and worked until the sun began to set and it was safe to leave. ‘

So Lal works as fast as she can, faster than she’d have thought possible. She comes in sunrise and leaves late in the evening – she has learnt the trick of going through the motions of approving the proposals without confirming the efficiencies about job eliminations faster and faster. Janetta has broken up with Malin and she is broken hearted. Through Cherry, an enormously popular new app, Janetta meets Taly Kett, CEO of Mutants, the most successful commercial Al lab in Ultrusa. Taly is attractive and brilliant and Mutants have just released their ground-breaking aut birds that look and behave like real birds. In order to get fundings for the work that Mutants do, Taly develops and creates docile spy dogs for government defence research agency. While they both believe that sooner or later AI is going to become conscious, Taly wants to programme AI to be docile, passive and obedient while Janetta wants to create emotionally intelligent auts. Taly is ambitious, aggressive and shrewd while Janetta is idealistic and she believes in creating conscious AI ‘that would not be merely rational and ethical, but free to live out the full complexity of its consciousness in its own way, just like humans do‘.

Rose is political and she has been going to meetings about source gain. Source gain is a concept where the corporations must pay up some money to a fund where the employees will be given basic income after losing their jobs to auts. You see even if auts do all the work, you still need income, but Rose figures that if that income comes from a single source, you are dependent on that source and you are not free. She works on the propaganda that auts should be publicly owned by the people.

Here is a thought. Ideally AI should free up some of the time we need to spend on certain tasks, and we will have more time in engaging ourselves in various pursuits but in reality, AI is only going to replace jobs and we as consumers end up spending more time on our screens and phones to get assistance and the services that we pay for.

Through the various characters in the story, A Strange and Brilliant Light discusses all the wider forces that will be at play in the world of automation . Do you think humans will be able to become symbiotic with AI or rather we will become more dependent on technology and losing ourselves in the course of it?

ELi Lee is a prolific writer. There is a prologue to the novel and this is how it begins.

Lal was starting to realise that even when you got what you wanted, there was something more to want. When she was very young what she wanted most was ice cream from Popotops. She didn’t get it often, but on special occasions -her and Janetta’s birthdays, and at the end of summer – their father would drive them to Conaus Square and she’d run through the glass doors into the café and excitedly announce her order. Coffee fudge, chocolate, banana marshmallow. Caramel sauce, cookie crumbs and chocolate chunks. For a moment she was in heaven, but all too soon her want would irrepressibly return – more, again , now.’

A Strange and Brilliant Light is a commendable read. Its author Lee has weaved together a narrative that may seem speculative but relevant in light of the fast moving technology. Through her characters, she questions the ethics and possible impact of AI technology. This is a story that is characters driven, full of fascinating ideas and thoughtful debates.

2 thoughts on “Bright Lights

  1. I’ve always been a Matrix fan, and the part you bring up does remind me somehow of determinism, whose thoughts I sometimes entertain too. Like, am I a writer exactly because of the things that have happened in my life? Do I think I’m choosing this path when it’s already been weaved into my fate? Today I feel like working out. Is that caused by the sum experience of my life to this point? What if I chose NOT to work out? Would it be the same reason why? Or perhaps it’s because I came across your post? It boggles my mind sometimes and I like it. Thanks for this post, LH!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stuart , Right now I’m thinking will I be walking my dog? I guess yes it is already written in the book of ages. On another note, perhaps if choices are already made for us, it makes it easier to accept why we have acted in a certain way or done something that is so uncharacteristic of us. For me, this is always an interesting thought to mull about and consciousness is also something I love to think about. The plus side of the Internet is we can almost instantly exchange our ideas in cyberspace. Thanks so much for reading the post and liking it.

      Liked by 1 person

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