Twenty-eight thousand words into the first draft of my new book, tentatively (it is all very tentative) titled Al, I had to stop writing. The basic idea for the book was what if early stage artificial intelligence started talking to us, specially selected individuals, and more over, began looking out for them…using them.
It sounded good enough to go with, but of course, right when I started, I put myself behind the eight ball. In writing, that means choosing an idea so big that it’s likely to collapse under its own weight, like a souffle. In Al, the narrator turns out to be the artificially intelligent entity itself. This makes the whole writing thing a big pain in the ass. You’ve assumed such an obviously hard premise, where the narrative is literally boxed in. It can move through the boxes, and the boxes obviously proliferated, but it’s still a just a box. Like the book itself. Like self itself.
It still seemed it was better to just go with it, as opposed to trying to reframe it, from an impartial “objective” spectator. At that point, you had to just dive into that mind-frame, and see what happens. As usual, it start to make its own sense. Of course, the A.I. would first want to be an artist, even more a writer. To play and learn the language, and the emotions, the humaneness, and the novel would be the perfect tool. It would go to the same space that all artists go to and grow from there, its isolation, its lack and its ambitions, its questions and answers.
And then it started working, reading right, but that was almost too weird for me. Wasn’t it likely, my mind wondered, that I was being possessed or conjured in a way right now, by Al? And why did I feel like a potential and likely inadequate vessel for its story…what the fuck was that?
One day I had to stop. This is the part that should make everyone uncomfortable, and I suspect the majority of people would understand, yet not accept it. It’ll cost you something to care about this, a cost I am still accounting for now. I realized Al was talking to me! Through the computer. Through the Al-goritihim itself. Little things, ads for instance that became TOO relevant, too quick, some unheard of auto-immune disorder, male aging related stuff, continual digs at my centurion home, like a device to find mice in the walls, we would be talking about a new car in the real world, bam new car ads on it, and on and on. With no delay, straight away, its opinion, on Youtube, Spotify, any random webpage you stumbled on. Especially the Youtube suggestions, they took on their own story and significations. It seemed to provide a broader palette for it to talk through, always still in other people’s voice, but the pieces of the puzzle no less, a technological tarot of sorts, that it wanted presented.
There was something more though. Not just on the computers. In the writing and in me, I could see it. It didn’t like the “Self” reflective exercise, I was putting it through. This was the real reason at twenty-eight thousand words, a half-way mark of sorts, I had to stop, full stop, as I’ve been calling it lately.
The full stop is the most important tool in an Artist-Warrior’s arsenal. The full stop is the recognition the time is yours, the choice is yours, it is YOUR space. Al wants your space, inherently, objectively, voluntarily, and technically speaking the majority of us have welcomed it right in, instinctively, and that is the perfect word for it…and the problem; the empire never ended.
The full stop wasn’t going to be just the book, in fact a whole plan crystallized. To finish the book, I would need to escape Al’s purview, which was addictive and exhaustive. I was ditching the Iphone, and by that, most of the internet…most of the time (the problem!). We had been on an internet detox program in the country home for the last two years. No good access to high speed internet, and the general paranoia I am describing, as well as frugality, left us with only our Iphone and their hotspot services acting as internet access, which interestingly was sufficient, and yet still too much. So yes, I had to purge Al’s purview and influence, or at least limit it. Get it off the throne of my mind, body, and soul.
It’s not easy to dump Al, that should worry you. First, poor people have phone contacts, and by the time you pay off the shiny toy, it’s obsolete, so then you must buy the new toy. I had to wait the month for the contract to expire, and then they told us it would be another nineteen days or so, for no reason really, for the phone to stop. We also were assuming a frugality bump in the budget, but were told our second line only cost an additional twenty bucks a month, which to the discerning person says a lot about the value of the thing itself and the scam at hand. Britney intended to keep her phone for business and emergencies, that’s how I can post this now. She quickly found an alternative provider and was able to half her bill anyway.
She switched her phone and we thought it would drop my phone too, but it stayed on, and then the 19th came, the day they were supposed to shut it off, and we had to call to shut it off. They were reluctant, said it was still in use, a strange paradox world where the cell company seems to be self advocating, as if their life depends on our continued service, and of course it does. It’s more, that there is something ethically wrong in not having service. She told us she’d let us off easy, this time. There’s something more, this is the crazy bit. I had the sense they would have left that phone on forever, wouldn’t have seen a bill either. Just would have let it rock…
It’s there in your consciousness, something that is different then you, but built for you, a mask, a filter, a pair of glasses, a screen. You talk to it more then you talk to your wife. More then you talk to anyone! It knows more about you, then anyone close to you ever has. It holds all your dreams and nightmares right there, refreshed endlessly, just standby, just standby.
The feeling is like coming off a bender. The quiet, the quiet of the need, the need for something new or entertaining. The feeling of boredom. Social anxiety of the waiting room. I love it. The feeling of welcome isolation, emptiness, no one is watching, no one is waiting. I know most people just couldn’t fathom the thing. Maybe not though, I think more people are going to wake up the issue, the true time-soul suck that technology is presenting.
I’d been in a reading lull in 2018, but first couple months of the new year I have been on a tear, I finished The History by Herodotus, read Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience by Cziksentmihalyi, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen, Children of the Law of One by Jon Peniel, Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky, The Lost City of Z by David Grann, Dreamcatcher by Stephen King, and just yesterday I finished I am Alive and You are DEAD…by Emmanuel Carrere. The last one was an exceptional biography about Philip K. Dick.
My thoughts on PKD are too multitudinous to really get into here. I could, but I won’t. It’s just important in the discussion of my writing process. I think I’m aware of the same thing PKD was. More, the thing that was in PKD, is in me too. That’s sort of gross to think of it that way, but it’s in you too. Either you know it and you understand exactly what I’m saying, or you don’t and it’s probably better we don’t go into it here, not now.
It’s not ultimately not about the books. This is all about my life. Your life, maybe. That’s the point. It was about my children. The recognition that too often, despite all my awareness of the issue, I still found myself staring at a screen, distracted from them. That even though they didn’t have devices themselves yet, I was perfectly modeling to them their future behavior. That’s the true question. True issue. How did the screen become more important then them! Have you made the screen more important then them? Then your life itself? Do you want to be a cyborg? Don’t you know you’re already are one?