Paul Saffo, Consulting Professor at Stanford University, had a compelling message at the 2007 Singularity Summit - one which really hit home with me (and I would imagine others, like me, who are not scientists, have not been studying and/or practicing AI, and who are most curious about how this will affect our future, and the future of humanity):
A long-anticipated vision of advanced AI is on the verge of arriving late and in utterly unexpected ways. As we approach this event, a quick look through the rear-view mirror at earlier AI visions can do much to reduce the uncertainty around how things may unfold.
Moreover, these earlier visions are a powerful reminder that we are not hapless bystanders, but active participants in what this future should look like. Just as William Gibson once served up the vision of cyberspace that shaped the 1990's Internet revolution, a poet writing almost exactly 40 years ago from San Francisco penned his vision for what a world of advanced AI should be.
The poet Saffo speaks of is one Mr. Richard Brautigan. This poem (1967), read aloud by Saffo at the conference, is well-worthy of being shared, here:
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
I like to think
(right now please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.
I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
After reading the poem, and driving home his point that what is missing today - for the case of AI - is a positive, compelling vision, Saffo asked the attendees to start a to-do list. Of course this would include talking to VCs, engineers and technologists, designers and so on. But even more importantly, he added:
We need more poets and novelists to explore this field. To think freely about it could be. Just whisper in their ear.
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Bonus: Saffo may have discovered what was the first 'Creative Commons' licensing effort in Brautigan's work:
San Francisco, California: The Communication Company, 1967�
Limited Edition of 1,500 copies, all for free distribution