Time Flies

Ezra Klein’s podcast commentary on A.I. and ChatGPT – link. It’s only 16′ long and worthy of your attention. Time is accelerating. Computers are in a race, with American and Chinese corporations all chasing A.I. improvements. A.I. researchers set the possibility of A.I. getting out of control at about 10%. When was the last time we played with fire… the atomic bomb, perhaps. The arms race. But, it is also possible that A.I. is the kick in the pants that humanity desperately needs, in order to change.

Amateurs + AI

The night was cut short when I woke up after three and a half hours of sleep. I read for a while, wrote down a few ideas for Rain Music, and had coffee early, at 0440. At 0700 I left the house to walk.

The act of making music, clothes, art, or even food has a very different, and possibly more beneficial effect on us than simply consuming those things. And yet for a very long time, the attitude of the state toward teaching and funding the arts has been in direct opposition to fostering creativity among the general population. It can often seem that those in power don’t want us to enjoy making things for ourselves -they’d prefer to establish a cultural hierarchy that devalues our amateur efforts and encourages consumption rather than creation. This might sound like I believe there is some vast conspiracy at work, which I don’t, but the situation we find ourselves in is effectively the same as if there were one. The way we are taught about music, and the way it’s socially and economically positioned, affect whether it’s integrated (or not) into our lives, and even what kind of music might come into existence in the future. Capitalism tends toward the creation of passive consumers, and in many was this tendency is counterproductive.

So wrote David Byrne in his book How Music Works.

An Amateur, from the Latin word Amator meaning Lover, is someone who loves to do something that they don’t get paid for. I am an amateur bread baker. Making my own bread for about ten years has given me a greater appreciation for a very well crafted bread from a professional bakery. A professional loaf. Making bread once a week allows me to understand the craft and intelligence that goes into making bread every day. I can marvel at a soft crumb and crunchy crust made with locally sourced flour. I am no longer a passive bread consumer. I am a enthusiastic amateur.

In my mind the above David Byrne quote connects to a podcast I listened to this morning.

But Tchaikovsky’s latest book, “Children of Memory,” ostensibly about crows, read as something very different to me: the best fictional representation I’ve read of what it is like to interact with, and perhaps even be, an artificial intelligence system like ChatGPT.
The Ezra Klein Show: Is A.I. Actually Creative? Are We? on Apple Podcasts


🐈‍💨 is my new emoji proposal for ChatGPT, based on the (already widely mentioned) French pronunciation “chat: j’ai pété” = “cat: I farted”.
– @amyisard@fediscience.org

It seems to me that a capitalist society doesn’t want to raise smart people, it wants to raise consumers. In a few years AI may well create all of the art, music, and books the consumer could want, and nobody will have to pay royalties to the pesky artists. The biggest galleries/record-companies/publishers will have their own AI and the smaller ones will rent time on available AIs. They will be able to produce unbelievable amounts of content… Perhaps the movie Matrix was right… only, instead of human batteries creating energy for the AI there will be human consumers of AI created content. In the podcast Adrian Tchaikovsky mentions a cartoon of two panels. The first panel shows how humans envisioned the future: a human sits and paints while a robot works. The second panel shows reality: the robot gets to paint and the human works.

I have been thinking about the discussion of personhood for AI. How typically self-centered for our species that a number of humans are already discussing personhood for AI, when systems like ChatGPT were designed to appear as human as possible, while not recognizing alien (to us) intelligences like octopuses or forests.

Legal Fictions

I listened to this podcast during my walks yesterday and today. Brilliant, brilliant woman. Pistor is able to explain the economic system in such a way that even I can understand some of it. The trick will be to keep what works and find ways to change what does not, and is pushing us to the brink.

Pistor’s theory has sweeping implications for some of the most fundamental economic questions of our time: How is wealth actually created? Why does our current economic system produce such huge inequalities? What causes financial crises? In Pistor’s telling, you can’t begin to answer such questions without understanding the legal foundation that our economy is built on.
The Ezra Klein Show: A Guide to the ‘Legal Fictions’ That Create Wealth, Inequality and Economic Crises on Apple Podcasts


The Length of Now from Alicia Eggert on Vimeo.

It was about time, this week. First I listened to Time is way weirder than you think, a podcast with Ezra Klein and Dean Buonomano. If you listen to it you will hear the terms Presentism and Eternalism. Buonomano declares that he is a Presentist. I am leaning toward Eternalism, myself. (link to Wikipedia page on Eternalism). Eternalism makes sense with Quantum physics… It’s hard to feel this concept of time, but this is true for many things that are new and that we grapple with. All musicians know about this. A rhythm feels alien and strange and impossible at first. Then it becomes clunky and jagged. Given enough time, eventually we inhabit the rhythm and it becomes smooth and organic. Maybe, twenty years from now, I can get my head around Eternalism…

I didn’t plan this TIME related week at all. It’s like the end of the year conspired to make me think about time! Next I listened to a Long Now Seminar podcast with the artist Alicia Eggert. (Website)
Check out her Vimeo page for more video of her work.
One of her pieces “You Are (On) An Island” ties in with this photo I took in Lisbon last month:

Indeed I find that each of us is a world and is on a world, is an island and is on an island. We are never alone. For one, we carry several pounds of bacteria and other non-human beings in our gut. To those beings we are a universe.

From my universe to your universe, what do you hope for in the new year, 2023?

Plants Listen

This week the Interdependence Podcast was recommended to me. I looked at the list of episodes and one, with artist and author James Bridle, appealed to me right away:

Other intelligences and prepping for utopia with James Bridle | Interdependence:

Thrilled to host James Bridle to discuss his recent book on ecologies of non-human intelligence “Ways of Being”, animal sensing and co-operation, deliberative democracy, the singing origins of language, cybernetics, and a great deal more.  Few have such an encyclopedic and generous grasp of this field and it was a real treat.

You should check it out, it will be an hour well spent. Link to James Bridle’s website. He also has a blog – link.

After listening to the podcast I decided to buy the book Ways of Being.

Here is a review of the book:

In this book, Bridle has created a new way of thinking about our world, about being. How would we live our lives and change our world if we embraced this thinking? If we did not place ourselves at the center of everything? Please read this important book. Read it twice. Talk about it. Tell everyone you know.

Link to the Washington Post.

I started reading the book yesterday. Much to contemplate and many highlights to revisit. Here is something I read last night:

In 2014, two biologists at the University of Missouri recorded the sound of cabbage white caterpillars feeding on a cress plant. (Arabidopsis thaliana, rock cress, is the macaque of the botanical sciences, the most popular plant for biological experiments, and it has taught us many things about plant growth and genetics. It was the first flowering plant to have its genome sequenced and its DNA cloned, and it has even gone to the moon.) Having left the caterpillars to munch away for some time, the scientists then removed them and played the sound of their approach back to the plants. Immediately, the plants flooded their leaves with chemical defences intended to ward off predators: they responded to the sound as they would to the actual caterpillars. They heard them coming. Crucially, they didn’t respond in the same way when other sounds – of the wind or of different insects – were played to them. They were able to distinguish between the different sounds, and act appropriately.

That was an excerpt From Ways of Being by James Bridle. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

My mother had a beautiful collection of plants growing in the windows of our apartment in Kóln. Among these plants were a couple of cacti. They grew to be quite large and often bloomed more than once a year. One afternoon a boy, who lived in the neighborhood, came by to ask her about her plant care. He told her that he loved cacti but, although he constantly checked the PH level of the dirt and gave the plants exactly what he had learned from books in the library, they had never bloomed. I remember his dumbfounded look when my mom told him she just gave them water when it seemed like they needed some and she often sang to them. Not a scientific experiment at all, but it taught me at an early age that for plants there is more to thriving than living in the proper dirt.

We are surrounded by intelligence. Much of it we haven’t learned to decode yet. That’s not the fault of fauna and flora… it’s our shortcoming. We are learning about it slowly. Anyway, read James Bridle’s book and you will be able to see what a possible future might look like, if we learn to interact with other intelligences. The book is not a dry scientific text. Bridle serves up plenty of great anecdotes that keep you interested. Perhaps you should start by listening to the podcast – it will give you a good entry into the book.


It was forty minutes before sunrise, and I was about to leave the house to start my morning walk, when my partner suggested a podcast she had discovered. I hadn’t picked anything to listen to yet and so I downloaded the first two episodes of this podcast about the History of English. After an introduction, the host read a text in Modern English, Middle English, and Old English. Those three generations of English sounded very different. To my ears Middle English sounded a bit like Scottish and Old English sounded more like a Scandinavian language. I learned that the power of English lies in its huge vocabulary, the result of the absorption of many words from other languages. I find that this makes Brexit even more puzzling. Perhaps there was a precedent in how Japan adopted a policy to confine itself from the rest of the world, set up by the Tokugawa Shonugate in the 17th century?

After my walk I came across a tweet that quoted this article about a Missouri school district that revives paddling to discipline students. I replied Paddle revival… the desire to go backwards is strong. Hopefully this will lead to horse-drawn carriages soon. :-)

Will an aging population drag cultures backwards? People generally live longer than ever before – although there are exceptions like this: Life expectancy in the United States continued to fall in 2021 for the second year in a row to 76.1 years, the lowest since 1996, showed the report published by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) last week (link). Is it an aging population, and their fond memories of a fictitious past, or is it, perhaps, the contraction that inevitably follows any expansion.

Tempo dirá… time will tell. Tomorrow I will listen to more of the podcasts about the History of English.