Writing as a Verb
"Writing is an action. To write is a verb. Don’t worry about being a writer, or about how it is done, or when you should write, or what comes first, or any of that. Simply write. Conduct the action. The rest will fall into place around that." -- From: Q&A With Ray Nayler on "A Threnody for Hazan"
Writing as Habit
"I get up every morning and write for an hour before going to work. Sometimes, I’m able to write in the evening as well, or on weekends—but the core of my process is that hour in the morning. I don’t do word counts or anything like that—I just make sure I get that hour in. I often begin writing by going back over what I wrote the day before, reshaping sentences, adjusting rhythms, getting back into the world I was trying to create. This seems, also, to help me avoid writer’s block. I’m not concerned with speed, and I’m not at all prolific: what I want is to do my best for the reader. I want to give them an immersive, absorbing world that they can be in. So I take my time, and because I enjoy being in that world myself, I’m in no rush to finish the story and leave." -- From: Q&A With Ray Nayler on "A Threnody for Hazan"
Writing as Craft
"I will draft and re-draft a story until I am satisfied with every word. I often start a new day of writing by editing the story from the beginning. By the time I finish a first draft, it is often, technically, a thirtieth or fortieth draft. This slows me down, but it ensures I am happy with what I’ve built, in the end. Maybe this is the architect in me. I do it for myself, and I also do it out of respect for the reader. I want to build a world for them to live in . . . I started writing because I wanted to create worlds to live in for myself and for my friends . . . That’s always remained my aim—to create worlds for my friends, and I view readers as my friends and confidants. I want to transport them." -- From: Lightspeed Author Spotlight: Ray Nayler, "The Death of Fire Station 10"
"It’s good to ignore unwarranted criticism and rejection. It’s better, though, to ignore praise and publication. Just continue on your way." -- From: Q&A With Ray Nayler on "A Threnody for Hazan"
Writing as the Building of Rhetorical Machines
"I see writing as the building of complex rhetorical machines that change the way we see the world. A good piece of literature should alter the way we see our own world slightly, but forever. As a science fiction writer, I make machines for thinking about the world by demonstrating how it might be otherwise. My goal is to create a machine that offers a glimpse of a different world’s internal workings—the meshing of its gears, the pattern of its structure. That glimpse, I hope, will push the reader to ask questions about the machine of the world they live in, and its underlying structures." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
Writing as Listening
"Writing, for me, is a form of listening. I know that sounds strange, as the act of writing seems more related to speech, but for me it is primarily about listening and reading. The goal of writing a good story for my readers provides me with a structure for my exploration of the world—a reason to listen, to attend more closely to what others have said and are saying. I see myself as a researcher whose primary task is to find out more about the world, and our existence on it, so that I can more richly communicate those discoveries to the reader and build them a better story." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
Curiosity as Ethics
"I think curiosity is a kind of ethics, in fact. C.S. Peirce said it best: 'In order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think. There follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry.' I think 'Do not block the way of inquiry' is a moral imperative. Inquiry is movement toward truth, no matter how far off that truth may be. Reactionary forces have always been, and always will be, blockers of the way of inquiry, who seek to stop the progress of thinking and lock us in an end-state, a state of error that suits their purposes." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
Writing as Social Critique
"I would never tell another writer what to do. People are free to write whatever they want: that’s really the beauty of art. People do, and can, and should, write fun stories about nothing at all. But for me, I think a lot of the motivation for my writing is tied up in my thinking about and considering problems in the world or thinking through an element of science or philosophy that interests me. I don’t mean necessarily suggesting solutions to them, but turning them over in my mind. That’s just the way my mind works, and it’s where my inspiration comes from." -- From: Lightspeed Author Spotlight: Ray Nayler, "The Swallows of the Storm"
Getting Everything Right
"I’m a perfectionist in my work. I demand a lot of myself, because I want to write the stories I would want to read. And when I read, I want everything about a story to feel real. Everything . . . I want to create worlds my readers can enter into completely and believe in fully while they are inside them. That means I want to get everything right: from the science I am exploring to the human relationships. I feel like I can’t neglect any aspect in favor of another." -- From: Lightspeed Author Spotlight: Ray Nayler, "The Swallows of the Storm"
Relationship with Readers
"In general, I’d like my readers to know that I am always thinking of them. William Sloane, who wrote the amazing To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water and was a brilliant editor and publisher as well, said in his book The Craft of Writing that 'the relationship of writing is a one-to-one relationship. There is the writer and there is the reader. One of each.' That thought lies at the core of everything I write. I view it as a partnership, and I respect the time and the effort they put into it. It inspires me to work hard, and hopefully be worthy of their time." -- From: Lightspeed Author Spotlight: Ray Nayler, "The Swallows of the Storm"
What I Write About
"I’m interested in philosophical ideas, and science, and using those things to speculate about what might be, or could have been, or about how what is happening now could be different. But at the core of it, I am interested in what it is to be human. There is so much we don’t understand at all about ourselves—even about something as simple as what it is to be a self, an individual, an entity on this planet relating to other humans, to our environment. Why am I me, and aware of being myself? How does that work? How did this thing called life, and then this even more complex thing called consciousness, emerge from inert matter? I’m continually aware of the extraordinary wonder of that, and of how amazing it is to be here at all. And I believe that relationships—the way we treat one another—are the most meaningful part of living.
Communication is at the heart of it all. So all of my stories are, at the core, about the conscious being and their communication with other conscious beings. And the stories are written, after all, because I am a conscious being seeking communication with other conscious beings. I think it’s easy to forget that strangeness at the core of life, but it’s always there, underneath the surface of the day-to-day—that brute fact of being alive among others who are alive. Maybe if we thought about it more, we would be better to one another." -- From: Lightspeed Author Spotlight: Ray Nayler, "The Swallows of the Storm"
"When I was a kid, I didn’t look for stories to read: I looked for worlds to live in." -- From Worlds to Live in: Atmosphere
"I think of it this way: the reader and I are in a car together, moving down a road. The road is the plot. The reader is the driver, not me. But I built the road. I constructed the buildings, and all of the scenery along the route. Most of my work was done before the reader got here. All that remains is for the reader’s eye to take in the details of the landscape along the way: for them to turn their head a bit from the main plot and glimpse an alleyway where figures converse in semi-darkness, a plane passing overhead, a boat on the river, something moving behind the curtains of a house we pass. The plot is not enough: as the reader moves down the road of the plot, they have to feel like they are traveling through a real world. They need to feel they could turn the car off the main plot and drive elsewhere, knock on any door they pass along the way and have someone answer." -- From Worlds to Live in: Atmosphere
"The mood, the feeling of the piece, [must] continue from its opening moments to its closing scenes . . .You can have plot without a theme, amazing characters without a great plot, or a great idea without any of those, but atmosphere demands consistency: a total saturation of tone." -- From Worlds to Live in: Atmosphere
"The uncanny is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It makes the mind recoil slightly, then come back again like a tongue probing a damaged tooth." -- From: Worlds to Live in: Atmosphere
"This is a very personal definition, but for me [condensation] is a metaphor, image, or sign that, much like the symbols in dreams, has multiple meanings and implications, and is an amalgamation of many of the underlying themes of the work. In T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock” there are many moments, but certainly the opening lines are a perfect example: “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table.” Or think of the owl in Twin Peaks, or the backward-talking dwarf. Think of the nursery rhyme in Nineteen Eighty-Four, or of the song the working-class woman sings while Winston Smith and Julia are meeting in their secret room. Or the mission and the bell tower in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. These symbols don’t resolve themselves: they just hang, forever, in the reader’s or viewer’s consciousness." -- From: Worlds to Live in: Atmosphere
Writing against Reduction
"I don’t think writing, if it is good, works through reductive didacticism – it works instead by creating a theater in which complex concepts play themselves out – not to resolution, but through increasing levels of complexity that engage the mind of the reader while leaving things at least partially unresolved. Good writing reveals complexity. It leaves the reader enriched, but not certain. It leaves them thinking." -- from Better Dreaming Conversation VIII: Suzanne Palmer and "Number Thirty-Nine Skink"
Writing as Architecture
"I see fiction as an architecture for asking complex questions, not a place for providing answers. And that works well for me, as “providing answers” isn’t generally something I am interested in doing. Fiction can be a more open space for exploration than non-fiction, perhaps—though I think non-fiction can be engaging and open in its exploration of the world, and I don’t see a strict binary relationship here. I should mention that I want more than just a philosophical sandbox: I also want the book to be engaging and entertaining. Balancing all those elements is a pleasant challenge." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper
Writing and Entertainment
"All storytelling is an architecture for asking questions. Storytelling is also about entertainment, and entertainment has a value of its own, which should not be discounted. But remember that the word “entertain” is from the Old French entretenir, which means to hold together or support. What it holds together and supports, I think, are the audience and the questions." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper
Science Fiction as Predicative
"For me, SF is not predictive, it is predicative. SF uses the raw materials of science not as a set of facts, necessarily, but as grounds for a shift in the world upon which it predicates (founds or bases something on) a set of events, often using that predication in a parallel manner as commentary upon the present world.
I think Mary Shelley puts it perfectly here, in the first paragraph of her preface to Frankenstein: 'The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it developes; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.'
I think that sums it up almost perfectly. Mary Shelley is not attempting to predict anything: What she is doing is using a theoretical possibility which, as she defends earlier in the paragraph, is considered plausible, but which she makes no claim to actually being possible, to “afford a point of view for the imagination” and that, which is perhaps the seminal impulse of science fiction, remains, for me, its core impulse. That’s not to say that science is not important – it’s just to say that the importance of the science figures, for me, primarily in its role as a ground for the furtherance of the predicative imaginative impulse.
As a writer, I write everything from meticulously researched hard science fiction based in biosemiotics, to weird-story type time travel tales in which the science is absolutely unexplained hokum. I don’t think the predicative element is greater or less in either." -- From: Better Dreaming: Conversations in Science Fiction
Science as a Structuring Metaphor in Science Fiction
"The creosote bush is not a single, continuous organism, but rather a clonal colony. The original stem crown splits and fragments over centuries into segments, genetically identical to the original, which produce new branches along their outer edge—like a tree trunk with the center rotted away and only the outer tissue producing branches. The oldest known plant among the creosote, nicknamed 'King Clone,' may have started from a seed almost 12,000 years ago. Now it is a ring of living plant tissue about 50 feet in diameter, tapped into an extensive system of roots that are both its own, living roots and the pathways of its ancient roots carved out over millennia, which have since died.
But there is more to the story: in fact, when the seeds of the creosote initially grew, they sprouted in places where the root systems of Ice-Age trees had been. Those root systems led to deep water, and following them down into that soil made it easier to get to that moisture. So now, when you look at a creosote “forest” (it’s hard to use that term for something that would rarely be more than knee-high), you are looking not only at a series of creatures who may have begun their life cycles before the Mayan pyramids were built—you are also looking at a map of an even older forest, the forest which was there before the creosote came. That primeval forest’s root pathways still inform and nurture the present structure. It is, in a sense, a “ghost forest”—but it isn’t a ghost; it is a history. This scientific fact is fascinating in itself, but it is also a metaphor, to me, for how history “haunts” and shapes the present, which grows within the system that history long ago established. Even an extinct system influences the shape of the present system.
I think in some ways the key to science fiction (I mean science fiction as a subset of speculative fiction) is that it uses science both in its 'factual' sense and in its metaphorical senses. The metastasis of Darwin's ideas about natural selection into a justification for exploitation is a good example of how misunderstanding and misusing scientific theories, as well as failing to see the flawed systems in which those ideas are rooted, can stunt our discourse. But the creosote example is, for me, an illustration of how nuanced scientific understanding of the world can encourage more complex ways of thinking, and how we can then use the richer metaphors of science as tools for examining our human condition." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
The term Science Fiction as a misnomer
"I think the term science fiction is probably one of the worst coinages in the history of literature. It was prescriptive (and proscriptive) when it was coined, is a straitjacket on creativity, and does a disservice to the works it misdescribes. Much of the best work lumped under this bad coinage has little or nothing to do with science —from Mary Shelley to H.G. Wells to Ray Bradbury to Philip K. Dick to much of what goes under the science fiction label today.
I say this as an author who takes research, science, and all of that very seriously. I say this as someone who thinks science is one of the best possible tools we have for understanding our world: this science fiction label is wrong. It is so wrong that it has led to wrong-thinking both popularly and among practitioners of the form.
One of the simplistic popular misunderstandings this bad label has engendered is that “science fiction” authors are trying to predict the future. We fundamentally are not. We are predicating, not predicting, and that one little letter makes all the difference. We are asking detailed “what-if” questions and building the results of those questions out into narrative. Some of these “what-if” questions might have to do with science and/or technology—but others largely do not. One Philip K. Dick story I love, “Roog”, has a simple predication: garbage men are really aliens, and only dogs know this, which is why they bark at them all the time: they are trying to warn us. The story is hilarious, and horrifying. But it isn’t about science and really, neither is anything else Dick wrote. Yet somehow people call Philip K. Dick a science fiction writer, and don’t think twice about it.
Kurt Vonnegut once said: 'I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled "science fiction" ... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.' It’s a great quote. It’s totally insane to say Slaughterhouse Five is about science. Or that J.G. Ballard’s Crash is about science. Or that Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is about science.
So, I call what I write 'difference fiction' in my head. But whatever I want to call it, there’s no use relitigating the term science fiction. We’re stuck with this bad term and can’t get away from it—so here is the power of science fiction, as I see it: it’s a genre that is about positing a difference with the present world. It is about taking that difference—that something (Darko Suvin would call it a novum, but difference will do for me) and exploring its impact. Sometimes, that difference is scientific. Sometimes it is technological. Sometimes it is an alteration in past events, or something else. The difference can be almost anything, but the power of this poorly named genre is that the differences it allows a writer to create allow an artful refraction. They become lenses we can focus on our present moment, our past, and where we might be headed. We are simultaneously able to look at the 'what-if' of the created world, and the 'why this?' of our own world. Fiction that seeks (or pretends, really) to be identical with the world-as-it-is does not have that power. It has powers of its own, but it lacks that one." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper
SELF AND OTHER
The Outside Point of View
"I spend the majority of my time as an 'outsider' looking in on societies I don’t entirely understand, and also drifting further from my own society, in some ways. Living as a foreigner for so long, that also influences my outlook. I spend much of my time reading, speaking, and interacting in languages other than English, in societies very different from my own, and I think that sense of 'alienation' is something I use in my writing. Being abstracted from my own culture also, I think, allows me to see it more clearly. I can bring an outside perspective to my own upbringing and culture that I could not have before I lived away from it for so long." -- From: Q&A With Ray Nayler on "A Threnody for Hazan"
On the Self in Translation
"What I have learned from my extensive time outside the United States is that individualism, in the firmest Western sense, is a sham. We aren’t individuals; our ability to communicate is collective: it relies on a system of common traditions, values, and background knowledge underpinning all communication. We are totally embedded in that system. When we move to other systems, we must shift our own behaviors to adapt to those systems, if we want to be understood. Learning to communicate in another culture isn’t about “common ground” at all: it is an act of translation. It is seeing ourselves from another perspective, and shaping our signals to the grammar, vocabulary, and syntax of the new context. That sense of communication across cultural divides as an act of translation and of self-alteration has stayed with me ever since, and certainly informs my writing." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
On the Self in Place-Time
I: "What I am also [interested in] exploring is the way in which the individual is embedded in history, and how historical positionality conditions us: how our choices are shaped and limited by the opportunities and happenstances of the world-moment in which we live, and our position within that world-moment. I call it 'the self in place-time,' playing on the Einsteinian concept of space-time. We inhabit, of course, a position in space-time, as physical beings, but that position in space-time becomes a 'place' when it is suffused with human culture and ideology.
Space has a shape that is physical—there are 'things' that really exist, both technological and natural, that do not go away when we stop believing in them, and these are the physical elements of the world. But there is also human culture, human political structure, human ideology, which turn 'things' into 'objects' and turn that 'space' into a 'place.' A good metaphor for this might be the difference (often uninterrogated) between a 'house' and a 'home.' A house is a physical structure consisting of materials and constructed in such a fashion as to provide for living. It is a space. A home, on the other hand, is that same space once it has accrued an identity as a 'place' in which human beings are carrying out (and narrating) their lives.
Human beings who live in a house suffuse the materials of it with meaning and turn it into a 'place.' But that place is also given meaning by its position within human-structured culture. A home in Berlin in 1939 is not the same as a home in Kansas in 1893, though they may be referred to by the same word. And neither one of those homes, even those same physical structures, unaltered, would be the same 'home' today. Each place-time provides a different set of constraints and possibilities, and the people who live in them must function within those parameters." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
II: "Philip K. Dick had a simple, elegant definition of reality which I love: 'Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.' I think this is a perfect definition, and it works on many levels: first of all there is the fact that things in the world exist, whether or not we perceive them: Mount Everest is there, in all its physicality, no matter what my set of beliefs is. Even if I did not know it was there, it would be real. It is real, as a thing, even in the absence of consciousness to perceive it. Everest exists in space-time. But there is another level here to reality: Human constructions. These are also reality. They are structures built up of ideology and traditions, structures, like the metaphor earlier of the creosote, seeded into the extinct systems of even older structures. These structures may not be physical, in the strictest sense, but they are real. They are actualities. They don’t go away even when we, as individuals, stop believing in them. They exist in place-time, the world created by the accretions of human culture. Charles Sanders Peirce puts it perfectly: 'A court may issue injunctions and judgements against me and I care not a snap of my fingers for them, I may think them idle vapour. But when I feel the sheriff’s hand on my shoulder, I shall begin to have a sense of actuality.'
These actualities define place-time. I can cease to believe in the values of capitalism, but it remains the driving force of our present economic realities. I can fail to recognize that my host family in Turkmenistan cannot understand my actions, but that won’t make my actions intelligible to them. I can deny the importance of nation-states, but they will continue to exert influence on the fate of billions. I can claim that racism doesn’t exist in the United States, or that I am not a racist, but racism will still be a powerful, structuring force in our history and present society—a force that has shaped me and every other person who lives in that place-time. I cannot escape my position in place-time’s mesh. I am 'of' the world in which I exist, though I can push against it.
So, what kind of freedom am I left with? I do not think the answer is 'none,' but certainly the fantasy individuality of the Western subject is a Cartesian farce. Tolstoy demonstrated this in War and Peace more than a hundred and fifty years ago. He laid it out for us over more than a thousand pages, but we still haven’t absorbed the full measure of that novel and its message.
What, as individuals trapped in the warped grid of place-time, can we do to make a difference? This is the question I ask myself every day. It is the question that drives me to keep writing." -- From: A Conversation in Progress: Professor Earl Jackson, Jr. and Ray Nayler
On individuality and the Collective
"This collective / individual binary is false . . . the entire Cartesian sense of individuality is false: Our ability to communicate is collective – it relies on a system of common traditions, values, and background knowledge underpinning all communication. Our lives are embedded in the collective. And adding to that thought, I think that our ability to make change is reliant upon our concrete connections to the collective in which we exist. It’s precisely that connectedness to community that gives us relevance.
This is something that the ancient Greeks understood, but that the West appears to have forgotten. For the Greeks the ‘polis’ is not the city as we think of it today, the physical place, but rather the collectivity of individuals who compose the ‘polis.’ When Herodotus speaks of Athens being evacuated in the face of the Persian onslaught, he is not saying that the city was emptied out – he is saying that the city moved its location, leaving their houses and temples behind.
Aristotle’s often quoted but little understood statement approximated as “Man is a political animal” really might be better translated as “Man is of the city.” The human is a part of the ‘polis’ – the community. Human activity in isolation is meaningless activity. So, rather than being mutually exclusive, we could say that it is precisely the collective which gives the individual meaning, and the individuals of the collective which, taken as aggregate, give the collective meaning. They emerge, and they succeed or fail, only together. Our modern, “Western” sense of individuality is a betrayal of the original Greek sense in which it was meant.
Enlarging and enriching our sense of community appears to me to be the primary task before us as a species, and understanding our interconnectedness is the work we must do to succeed in that task." -- From Better Dreaming Conversation IV: Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and "Ife-Iyoku"
"I think in some sense, translation is very much akin to writing: Writing often starts, for me, with a vague idea, a set of images, a feeling-tone that I want to communicate—and that I understand intuitively, because it is my own. This initial mass, this aggregate, this set of incoherent but connected things, has to be structured in order to be understood by others. The act of writing is, to a great extent, the act of passing that vagueness through an apparatus that weaves it into a coherent whole for the reader. It has to be given grammar, form, rhythm, structure, pacing. It has to be worked on, transformed from this pre-linguistic mass through language and form to become a text that can connect with the reader.
Similarly, translation has that same reader as its final target. It has to pass, in a sense, through the membrane separating one linguistic and cultural world from another. In order to do that, and to arrive at its destination in a form that can be interpreted by the reader, it must, like that incoherent idea, be reformed in the new language. It must be given the grammar, form, rhythm, structure, and pacing of that target language.
The difference between writing and translation is that in writing, the membrane stands between a single personal, mental world and the culture at large. In the case of translation, the membrane is between the Russian cultural world, for which the story was written, and the target culture." -- From Translator Interview: Ray Nayler at Samovar
SCIENCE, INFORMATION, THE HUMAN, AND AI
On life as information
"Life’s substrates are energetic and material, but information is key to it all, and the informational, semiotic, communicative functions of life remain poorly explored and understood. I think it is amazing that, for me to be alive and typing this today, living tissue has had to transmit, receive, and interpret a constant stream of uninterrupted information lasting 3.7 billion years . . . At no point between life’s starting point 3.7 billion years ago and my and your complex awareness right now has that chain of informational exchange and interpretation been interrupted. If it had been, you would not be here to think of that interruption’s consequences.
We are, all of us, the living continuations of a 3.7-billion-year-old chain of communicative events. We spend much of our lives thinking of ourselves as individuals with a beginning and an end—but we are so much more than that. We are embedded in, and embody, an ancient and dynamic system far more complex than our present understanding allows us to understand." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper
On the mind
"The human mind is as alien to us, in many ways, as the sea floor. We have difficulty, when speaking of consciousness, in even describing it on its most basic levels. Not only do we not know how it is possible that we think and feel and are alive – we can’t even agree on the definition of “alive” or “think” or “feel.” And when it comes to things like understanding just how it is that communication works—how a weightless, non-material set of symbols can pass from one mind to another and sometimes alter the course of a whole world, but not strictly be composed of energy or matter at all—the mystery really seems impenetrable." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper
On the future of AI
"If you asked me for a definition of what a human is, I might respond that the human is, more than anything else, a technological animal. From the moment we picked up a rock and used it to alter our interaction with our environment, we have been shaping technology—and have been shaped by it.
Paul Virilio famously said, “when you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” I would add to that: when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck, you populate the islands of the Pacific and Australia, you write The Iliad, The Odyssey, you enable colonialism to extend its reach across the Atlantic, you drive the whale nearly into extinction, you kill off the dodo and the Steller’s sea cow, you invent the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, you turn millions of humans into sailors and create cultures around the sea and seafaring that never existed before, you invent naval warfare, Viking piracy . . . this list can go on for as long as we want it to. The point is that the consequences of technology are predictable only in the near, and at best the medium, term. In the long term, technology will do things that fundamentally alter the capabilities of humans, but also alter what it means to be human in the world, because it will alter what we can do, think, tell stories about—everything.
I’m not scared of AI or hopeful. I don’t think those words really matter: it’s like asking whether it made sense to be scared or hopeful about the printing press, or the first written alphabet. Humans continually invent things that are immediately beyond their control, and we are doing so again. The world those inventions bring about is something it is very interesting to ponder—but I think only the most arrogant of us would think it is something we can control, predict, or describe. That would be like a mastodon hunter on the Eurasian Steppe 30,000 years ago somehow managing to perfectly describe the future political structure of Caribbean pirate crews. One of our fundamental flaws is that we always seem to regard both the future and the past as being somehow more interpretable than the present moment. They aren’t! They are just as hypercomplex as this day on Earth is, and we don’t very well understand what is happening, much less what has happened or will happen.
I’m not saying that we should be helpless or passive in the face of AI and the things it is doing to us: we need better, future-oriented thinking that mitigates risks and damage to society and our personal freedoms in the short and medium term. But in the long term, there is no predicting what any of this will give rise to." -- From Don't be afraid of your own depth, an interview with Eliot Peper