looks to Bukele’s incredible popularity to help understand the underlying factors driving the populist revolution.
All around us are warnings about the consequences of generative AI for our jobs, our democracy, and our humanity. And all around us is excitement for the possibilities that generative AI will make us richer, more informed, safer, and better. The transformation of human society will be intense, swift, and powerful. And we all need guides to help us through. Walter Russell Mead does an excellent job of sketching out the challenges we face, contextualizing it in history, and posing questions for the present.
Arendt Center members might recall Matthew Crawford, author of Shopclass as Soulcraft, from his talk at our 2013 Conference Failing Fast: The Educated Citizen in Crisis. Crawford is a philosopher and has also been a motorcycle repairman in addition to a bestselling author. N.S. Lyons recently interviewed Crawford and asked him about “self-governance,” the lost art of being able to lead our lives freely. Very much in the spirit of Max Horkeimer and Theodore Adorno, Crawford is concerned with the ways modern society promises us freedom and enlightenment but inserts us within social, economic, and political systems that make personal as well as political autonomy impossible.
As we struggle to contemplate the impact of humanly developed but now inhumanly powerful artificially intelligent machines, we would do well to recall some of the lessons Arendt drew already from the victory of science and the modern age. Arendt wrote in the Human Condition that the “mathematization of physics, by which the absolute renunciation of the senses for the purpose of knowing was carried through, had in its last stages the unexpected and yet plausible consequences that every question man puts to nature is answered in terms of mathematical patterns to which no model can ever be adequate, since one would have to be shaped after our sense experience.” For Arendt, this separation between “thought and sense experience” means that man can create a man-made reality that defies the human capacity to understand or predict that world. In a similiar way, Slavoj Zizek approaches the present panic around the rise of artificial intelligence. He argues that what will come from artificial intelligence is not simply domination by those who control them, but surprise on the part of those who have created machines they cannot control.
When the Federalist Society at Stanford Law School invited a Federal judge appointed by Donald Trump, some students protested and successfully shut down the talk by persistent heckling. Pamela Paul argues that the real value of invited speakers is not simply the freedom to speak but the imperative to listen.
I like to tell my students to read aloud. Whether it is poetry or philosophy, reading the words aloud gives them a physicality and sound that is part of their sense. Also, read in different places. And read walking. To read and talk and think while walking along a wooded path focuses the concentration and also ties the meaning of the word to the world. It seems there is some science behind this. Ferris Jabr argues that there are good reasons why walking encourages creativity of thought.
Jaron Lanier is “the godfather of virtual reality.” Always one of the most original thinkers on technology, Lanier takes on the recent obsession about Chat GPT and other “large language models” by arguing, provocatively, that AI does not exist: .”My attitude is that there is no AI. What is called AI is a mystification, behind which there is the reality of a new kind of social collaboration facilitated by computers. A new way to mash up our writing and art.”