Note — Feb 21, 2021

Touching the Future

Genevieve Bell writing for the Griffith Review with a trip through the history of computing, AI, systems, cybernetics, and ideas for the way forward. She starts with “THE FUTURE IS not a destination. We build it every day in the present,” in an intro very close in spirit to the “Ashby-Benjamin manoeuvre,” then goes on to cover the Macy conferences (cybernetics), the meeting at Dartmouth (AI), their influence on the Whole Earth catalogue, Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition (which I didn’t know about, fascinating), and finishes with the Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps in Australia, as inspiration for “ideas about sustainability; ideas about systems that are decades or centuries in the making; ideas about systems that endure and systems that are built explicitly to endure.” The difference between Macys and Dartmouth in the inclusion of a planetary context and the environment is worth noting and Bell keeps that thread going throughout the piece.

Stories that unfold a world or worlds in which we might want to live – neither dystopian nor utopian, but ours. I know we can still shape those worlds and make them into somewhere that reflects our humanity, our different cultures and our cares. […]

It might be less important to have a compelling and coherent vision of the future than an active and considered approach to building possible futures. It is as much about critical doing as critical thinking. […]

AI is always, and already, a lot more than just a constellation of technologies. It exists as a set of conversations in which we are all implicated: we discuss AI, worry out loud about its ethical frameworks, watch movies in which it figures centrally, and read news stories about its impact. […]

We will tame the computer’s appealing transcendental charm and restrain it from serving established power. This stance is the way to solve complicated problems in the machine society. […]

[S]tories of the future – about AI, or any kind – are never just about technology; they are about people and they are about the places those people find themselves, the places they might call home and the systems that bind them all together.