The antidote to despair is… to knit, bake, rake a trail, make a collage, write a song…

I watched this very sobering talk from Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin, of the Centre for Humane Technology, on Monday. The people behind the enlightening film The Social Network gathered people together on March 9 2023 in San Francisco, just before the launch of GPT-4, to discuss how existing A.I. capabilities already pose catastrophic risks to a functional society, how A.I. companies are caught in a race to deploy as quickly as possible without adequate safety measures, and what it would mean to upgrade our institutions to a post-A.I. world.

It’s well worth the hour of your time – they explain things in a very accessible way, and go a long way in shaping my thoughts on the pros and cons of AI and chat programs that can write your school assignments (or your work speeches and emails) for you. Heads-up: the cons far outweigh the pros, and the possibly deadline-hacking convenience of these tools are meaningless in the face of the genuine existential threat the unleashing of artificial intelligence currently poses.

So, in the context of this phase shift moment, I have been reflecting on what is mine to do…

It has been said that “action is the antidote to despair”, but action that is informed by the same mentality that caused the situation that generates the despair is maybe um, not the thing to double down on.

Inaction, however, feels like a kind of capitulation.

So this little screen grab is what I am holding tight to. Creation, actually, is the antidote to despair. Get the hands busy. Make something. Something that you can put your heart into. Your sorrows into. Your back into.

Maybe we are, again, oh humanity, ushering in another dastardly invention that will further incohere and collapse things… but maybe I’m no closer to that moment than I was yesterday, anymore than I am closer to my own existential vanishing… and so, either way, it seems that pursuing small acts of making is probably the best use of my time – what joy, novelty, intention, playfulness, honouring, attention can you bring into your immediate world, through some act of creation – make up a song and sing it to your favourite small person as you go for a walk, create a small pollinator patch or flower garden, grab an old magazine from the library’s weeding shelf and make a collage (it’s weirdly relaxing), make bread or kombucha or jam, get out some paints or dyes and see where that takes you.

If we outsource all acts of self expression to an artificial intelligence, we forget who we are – that we are instruments invited to let some kind of energy move through us and give expression to the wild miraculous story of aliveness.

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