Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Meaning and beauty (in the age of artificial intelligence)

To any moderately observant person it should be clear that we are on the cusp of a real technological revolution - the first that I would witness personally with personal computing and the internet not amounting to that much in the end. The post-industrial society will get automatized creating a whole new cultural, economic and social situation. And like any revolution, however much planned, analyzed and rationalized, this one too will be chaotic, uncontrolled, uncontrollabe with countless unforeseen and unintended concequences: "Marie, Marie, hold on tight"...

No, I'm not hugely worried about our despotic, robotic overlords taking over: we already do despotic, robotic overtakings very expertly, thank you, have always done. Maybe in some corners of the West, of the postindustrial society we have a few scattered elements of enlightenment and liberty, but by and large the global system is a bloody, despotic kleptocracy, so maybe an AI version of despotism would actually be better. But it seems rather meaningless to speculate about this popular image of malignant machine intelligences - we simply don't know how things will turn out to be, though for me this particular scenario does not seem a likely or plausible end result.

Instead, I wonder from where shall our various artificial intelligences get their strange machine meanings from? Facts are simple enough: there's always facts around, scurrying away this way and that, but meanings are so much harder to come by. Where shall they get their Nietzschean criticism that without which it's so hard to imagine ourselves, lost here on this darkling plain? Hard to imagine these odd intelligences. (Especially as I don't mean the kind of "artificial intelligence" that many of the experts seem to mean for much of the time: really clever, self-learning machines going trough the tricks of moderately complicated tasks.)

And, also, and maybe even more importantly: where shall they get their idea of beauty from? The one, classically, that is so closely bound with the concept of ethics - where are their appropriate, proportionate ideas of fate fashioned? Or are they fashioned at all? It shouldn't really matter which material you are made of but which meaning and experience of the world you have - anything outward and obviously material is irrelevant. But the question still stands, and will stand, regardless of the of the changes to come: shall we have empty minds overseeing empty tasks? And to what rational purpose then?

As for the unfolding of the actual historical process, these thoughts are totally meaningless: they won't be considered for a moment. Things will happen without any overall control: there will be unforeseen and unintended occurrences, and we shall arrive where we never expected to arrive. We can only hope - and I have already argued here that it is our only realistic hope - that technological progress will free us for meaningful things and experiences. We will see.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Your words like swallowing something sharp

Lately I had an evening of reminiscing: remembering persons and feelings, music and poetry. It is weird, this middle-age, being wiser and dumber, more numb. Those burning feelings of the 20 somethings seem at once both silly and easily more profound than the relaxed, resigned wisdoms of the late 40's. Age is no key, no route, no way in itself - to be alive to this awful, beautiful world is to remain intense: no resignation, no relaxation.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Külmale maale

I will not seize to wonder how easily the stalinist crimes have been forgotten in Europe. And, yes, surely the Nazis were even worse, I do agree. But if you think that, if you really see the horror of nazism, then you are logically bound to recognize also the red version, surely. I'm a liberal, so this really is not a great problem: any wholesale state violence against groups of people is very easy, very natural to condemn. So, against this background, it's weird to see how one set of crimes against humanity could be so easily forgotten compared with another such one.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Thin White Duke - the leader of the freaks and misfits

I guess this is a kind of a 1970's eulogy: the world was different then, and oh how different was Finland, a remote wounded country painfully entering modernity. Now everyone can do it and does, and it's great and if it's not, you turn to the next one, you are free to turn whichever way. But he did it then: broke codes, very important codes, religiously guarded central codes - of sexuality, gender, of identity, of personhood. He evaded the dead categories with seeming ease, with grace. And aided me and undoubtedly countless of others also trying to find a path away from that deadness, and not with ease, not with grace. That is not a small thing to say of anyone, and next to that, his person, is his marvellous, glittering art: defiant, constantly changing, evading, slipping away from all your attempts of control. He was much too fast for that. So, a sad day this.

(Of course it is the land of all teenagers and young adults: the inner freakhood, the pain of not fitting into the world but it can feel extra sharp if you cannot even begin to think of a compromise, a gradual adjustment as your very being is a radical rebellion against liveless past certainties that still control thoughts and expectations.)

Thursday, January 07, 2016

On amoral codes of conduct

Of all things I have been reading and watching The Camomile Lawn - I prefer the excuisitely acted series, but the novel is rather curious: not great writing, unfortunately, but a sharp, odd vignette of an era.

I was thinking about that breezy, self-confident attitude combined with the various liaisons and came first up with the word "libertine" - and then thought it completely wrong, misleading, and also that "amoral" would only work in a very particular (and unfortunate and hurtful) context of "moral".

There surely must be a moral framework for our actions or else they will be void of significance and of responsibility: but that framework must be individually wrought and thought out, shaped to be real - and it is unreal, dishonest and fundamentally libertine (shamelessly enjoying one's narrowness and meanness), and thus completely immoral to opt for Victorian puritanism devoid of the philosophical-religious principles of that puritanism (that do not save that anti-morality from shallowness and cruelty but who at least provide it with some intellectual defences).

And I also thought that my values have actually been rather close (though not identical) to those mores so interestingly and strangely portrayed by Mary Wesley. That I do have individually wrought a moral code of conduct totally and satisfyingly anti-victorian and unlibertine. (At times it didn't feel this way, but there really was a serious code of conduct there, I believe.)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On not taking stock

I'm not William Ewart Gladstone, nor was meant to be. Though I too used to write profoundly weird end of the year diary posts: very Protestant, very phoney, full of false optimism and painfully fake personal piety. I grew out of it, he didn't, though that very obviously was not an impediment for achieving great things. But I did grow out it, matured, wisened up. Strange that, and excellent.

I can still vividly recall myself: reading those selfsame diary posts in the History Department library: thinking them both phony and admirable, painful, attempting to balance, and failing. And only belatedly seeing that it wasn't any total failure but in some respect also rather admirable and ultimately successful effort. And Gladstone - his phoniness was not the most important thing about him, or the most relevant: his idealism was. And with me, perhaps, my realism.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The many things you owe these latest dead

Age in itself is fine: we will always be ourselves, contained in our personal experience, where-ever and whenever it occurs. But it is the other people that are so dissatisfying: permanent landmarks they are supposed to be but prove to be fragile and mortal and you realise that even your love, the thing you are most proud of (maybe suspiciously, but that's another question) has no magic power: they will depart, the drumbeat of generations.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

An ancient poem about Philip Larkin and me

As I now seem to be publishing my embarrasing juvenalia:

In the bright September sun
(the town was so hazy, beautiful)

To find the right measure of intensity
(reading Larkin's poems)
seemed such an impossible task.
Only schooled in uncertainty,
I was in search of a suitable mask.

But looking through the bus window, I felt,
that my failure was confirmed by his art
and the blue unreachable nothingness meant
that for me there was no acceptable part
in this cruel old play, and thus, without words to say,
my youth, my life, was spent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Here's my naked skin

Or was: in the mid-1990's I got a summer job at an export-import company's switchboard by the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. A very nice job, as it was, but I was burningly unhappy, increasingly unable to cope with my failure to integrate with the world. And art being the saving grace in my utter incapability to function. These three poems come from that summer:

(Office poetry, Part I)

A notion

As the moment comes,
words often don't
and what might have
been will now not ever

(Office poetry, Part II)

Meditating on 'An Independent Love Song'

If in any which way
I only could see
there then would not be
so much to say -
or write - or think,
just a natural way to be.

(Office poetry, Part III)

Even More Trivial

All is not ever said,
but we in this our bed
attempt other things
and without words
all in triumph is said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Terminal Zwei

Very occasionally you come across a first novel that is breathtakingly brilliant. Which is always slightly unencouraging: you will reluctantly google the author to see his/her age at the time of the publication. It is different with mucisians, painters, mathematicians (I claim unfairly): you can see it as a freak of nature, a narrow skill taken to extremes, but literature is different, wider, universal. You think to yourself that no-one should have that wide a scope that young, you are amazed and envious...

This happened today with Jennifer Egan's first publication: The Invisible Circus. Such a mature text and technique, experienced and wise beyond years. Naturally there are some obvious flaws there but what comes across is a cool but fierce assessment of life and history, life in history. It is this combination that lifts the text far above the usual sensitive comedies and tragedies of manner: a private story in the felt context of history, of time. (Another striking thing effortlessly portrayed, sensually and analytically, was the physical dimension, manifestation of falling in love - a thing exceedingly rarely well described without any sentimentality, coarseness or unreality.) Astonishing achievement by an author so young.