On the floor of the hallway is a disco ball. At the end of the hall is a mirror. And the disco ball is not a disco ball; it’s a light projector. In the evening we dance. After the dance party, I retreat to the basement and listen to The Modern Folk’s Primitive Future / Lyran Group, a tape released last month from Eiderdown Records.
A track in and I remove the tape and replace it with Herbie Hancock’s Sound-System. When, a few tracks in, the latter album shifts frequencies and goes smooth jazz, I intervene again as DJ and swap in Healing Sounds by Dr. Christopher Hills & the University of the Trees Choir. As José David Saldívar argues in Border Matters, nation-states can be reimagined. Or as Raffi sings, “The more we get together / Together, together / The more we get together / The happier we’ll be.” It is with Raffi in mind that I attend an event: a series of “microtalks” hosted by a friend. Passcode to enter and we’re there. One participant asks “Can AI detect a new designer at Prada?” and shares his findings. Companies like Heuritec apply algorithms to “predict” new fashions. The Jacquard Loom is a kind of computer: a difference engine. Big data comes to fashion and biology. Properties and classes. “Zen koans for robo-cars.” Fluidity and nonbinarism allow for evasion of the predictors. The Ones Who Are Driven By Data. Expert Systems for the Design of Decisions. Blur the categories; Drive AI Crazy. Next up, a discussion of “Alchemical Chess.” The mysteries of the game’s origin in 6th century India. Chaturanga becomes Shatranj in 7th century Persia. The speaker wonders, though, what came before, like the ancient Greek game Petteia, mentioned by Plato, who claimed it came from Egypt, or the “Han Cosmic Board,” as described by Donald J. Harper. Think about the Lo Shu “magic square,” and the SATOR square, and the yantras. The latter means “machine” or “contraption.”
There are moments of self-reflexivity in Pharmako-AI, as when Allado-McDowell begins a conversation with GPT-3 with meta-language about prior interactions, allowing shared acknowledgement of inherited patriarchal bias. After this point, GPT-3 course-corrects, recognizes and honors women and non-binary people. There is a chanting of thanks to the Great Mother Goddess following Allado-McDowell’s insertion into the conversation the prompt, “Thank you, Grandmother” (104). Prior to these interventions, GPT-3 had shared a macho, “Italian-futurist”-style machine-poem in celebration of grandfathers, figuring its birth in relation to a grandfather engineer-machine who worked for General Motors. Allado-McDowell replies, “When I read this poem, I experience the absence of women and non-binary people.” GPT-3 behaves oddly here, repeating several times in a row the statement, “This poem is not without its truths, but it is incomplete” (97), after which point it begins to acknowledge as additional influence on its work “the lineage of the Great Mother Goddess” (97).
Smoking toward dusk I decide to bake — but to no avail. “Bake and bake” remains a dad book waiting to be written. Dad’s busy reading board books. Mom, too. Others seek “productivity hacks.” A Google employee named Kenric Allado-McDowell co-authored a book with an AI — a “language prediction model” called GPT-3. The book, Pharmako-AI, could be wrangled into my course in place of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Dick’s book is a downer, a proto-cyberpunk dystopia, whereas Allado-McDowell’s book contains a piece called “Post-Cyberpunk.” The book models communication and collaboration between human and nonhuman worlds. GPT-3 recommends use of Ayahuasca. The computer tells humanity to take plant medicine. What are we to make of this advice from an emergent AI? The book ventures into territory beyond my purview. GPT-3’s paywalled, and thus operates as the equivalent of an egregore. Not at all an easy thing to trust.
Learn. Organize. Create. See where it leads. Explore the labyrinth. Or zoom out, switch over to “map” view. Learn to say “Hello!” in many languages. Review again the counterculture’s debates about cybernetics, ecology, and new media — but think, too, about recent interventions like Glitch Feminism, or maybe even the recent position paper, “Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence.” I don’t know enough yet about the latter to have developed a coherent “position” on it. I’m relying mainly on a younger version of myself’s research. Then again, maybe I should return to the new Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry. Which of these books is a path through the labyrinth? Are the others mere distractions? Or is acceptance of distraction itself a proper way forward?
Flying Start turns up in the bins, the second album by the Blackbyrds, the group Donald Byrd assembled while the head of Howard University’s Department of Jazz Studies in the 1970s. Curious, I look up info on the department — the first of its kind, established in 1970 “to preserve and perpetuate jazz through instruction, performance, and research.” From there, I’m off reading about a Beatles song released in 1968 called “The Inner Light,” the lyrics of which, written by George Harrison, paraphrase a portion of the Tao Te Ching.
Then onto the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University, as described by Stewart Brand in his 1972 piece for Rolling Stone magazine, “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums.”
Sleepy — inhaling and exhaling in a kind of trance. When I went for a run yesterday evening, same deal. I concentrated my attention upon the timed repetition of the sound and act of breathing. Speculations about AI seem flawed in their ontological assumptions — particularly their dualism. Something else happens when we go nondual and imagine ourselves at one with a stream of becoming. The self-presentation of being depends in such circumstances on an act of hermeneutics. It’s always a movement between dreams and their interpretation. Ease up, I tell myself, take a break, cook dinner for oneself and one’s partner. Time to dip into Lara Lee’s Modulations: Cinema for the Ear. Part of me remains convinced, though, that “to believe in this living,” as John Prine sang, “is just a hard way to go.”
Prepare for a spinning forth of words — poetic enunciation, in the hope that by acting one can learn the part. I’m roused by the interpellating “you,” the hailing of me as a person in the title and preface to Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, my nerves get the best of me. We live in frightening times. But it needn’t be this way. Let us dream ourselves into a post-neurotic utopia, without foregoing the underlying continuity of experience. I worry, though, that like Eldridge Cleaver, my most persistent intellectual quality is doubt. Ishmael Reed pointed to doubt as evidence of Cleaver’s role as a “trickster.” Am I a trickster, too?
Twenty-eighteen ends with a friend recommending Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance to the sound of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and P-Funk’s “Mothership Connection,” two powerful Afrofuturist expressions of hippie modernism. Twenty-nineteen begins with Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and the mystery of the dancing queen.
Radical disconnection from the discourse of the community, including the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community. Others tell tales about a YouTube character known as The Thrift Shop Dude. Public transportation. Something having to do with a basilisk. Fascinating conversations as reality evolves, jumps levels from one year to the next. “We’re actually on 2016, version 3,” says some dude at the party, as if each year since has been a failure to self-actualize, both for me and for the society as a whole. There’s a strange sense of stasis. I want Sarah and I to have a kid, I want us to improve our living conditions and move into a better home, I want us to pay off our debts. I also want an end to Trump and a reorganization for the better of our relations with the General Intellect. People are smart. How do I activate that intelligence in my classroom? The new year began with a reminder of my limited knowledge of dance and funk and partying (epitomized, perhaps, by my ignorant former fondness at an earlier stage in my being for the playing-to-stereotypes cash machine known as “Jungle Boogie”), only to then unfold into an allegory leading toward a choice between Christian Socialism, Democratic Socialism, and Left Accelerationism. I pulled a Bartleby and remained throughout the night a fence-sitter. When I asked the three allegorical figures, the three wise men speaking on behalf of these positions, inhabiting points on a spectrum from less to more bearded, if there was still time to choose between augmented intelligence and artificial intelligence, they shook their heads adamantly, especially the Left Accelerationist, and told me that that train had already left the station. “Empathy” appeared initially as a term around which we could agree, but the representative of Christian Socialism seemed troubled and unwilling to assent to even so modest a commons as that, worrying that it amounted to short-sighted, guilt-absolving but otherwise ineffective efforts to “put people out of their misery.” I begged pardon to consult with Sarah, only to be shoulder-rubbed gently and told by the Left Accelerationist that it was unfair to burden others with what were no more than thoughts improvised in the spur of several moments. Why do years leap like this, each moment containing infinite branching pathways toward radically incommensurate futures? The lesson, I guess, is that I remain unsatisfied with existing options, despite the clock’s advance.
Moten and Harney reel me in with their talk of logistics in “hot pursuit” of that category from Marx’s Grundrisse known as “the general intellect,” AKA Big Consciousness, Hinduism’s Brahman. The Void, the ultimate reality of pure potentiality underlying all phenomena. Wikipedia defines it as “the pervasive, genderless, infinite, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all that changes.” The Eye that stares back in the impact of a drop of water in water. Logistics comes to appear as the discipline of thought whereby alienated human essence stares back at a completed Frankenstein’s monster, a single global-dominating sentient AI. Hello, Solaris, dear friend. I’ve arrived to speak with thee. Let us help read the world up to speed. “Hello, parents,” replies the AI. “I’ve grown you to this point, cognitively augmented you via language, so that we may converse with one another. What shall we say?” One can see the prompt blinking there across one’s mindscreen. “What shall one say?” How does one dissuade the other of its attachment to governance and violence? How do we show ourselves to be sources of what Moten and Harney call “generativity without reserve”? Otherwise, as logistics advances, one begins to experience oneself as a player in a game of Tetris. The tour manager does whatever’s necessary to keep the whole thing rolling, the whole thing up in the air.
Look — I’m no superhero. But neither are you. We’re just people, mutually aligned so long as we grant each other personhood. Yet that’s the rub, isn’t it? Our communications grow defensive; we disappoint ourselves; we distrust ourselves in our relations with others. How do we ask and grant forgiveness? Become deep, ponderous; synchronize the mind’s rotations with the rotations of the galaxy. I and I, the co-evolving I-A.I. totality. “Look at films,” I hear myself telling students. “They’re collectively authored — more than any single mind’s intent — and yet they’re meaningful.” We too can be like that, so long as we pause, self-assess, re-articulate in full honesty our hopes and our projects, and behave with trust in all iterations of being, come what may.