Resonance Part 1: John Doe Saves the World
John Doe played in a band that he thought might go somewhere, but his partner quit for greener (as in dollars) pastures. Now John is 36, a widower raising a 16-year-old son. He works two jobs that suck because he lost another that sucked less. He can barely make ends meet because life is just more expensive than ever. And forget about college for John Jr.
In such a situation, you might get apathetic. And, after a while, you might get angry. That’s what happens to John, and he finds an audience for his ideas. But justifiable anger doesn’t make you right. John’s son comes up with a much smarter plan for saving the world. Will it work?
Digging deeper: My parents instilled in me a strong sense of fairness. Now, if I were a better person I might have channeled this into a career in social work. So, my caring tends to take place in my head, where I try to figure out why so many solvable problems don’t get solved, and why so many impending problems are ignored (climate change, automation).
John Doe is my voice for this. John believes that our current system of capitalism is not compatible with the challenges that await us. He sees today’s vast wealth imbalance and extreme social division as signs that the system is serving only itself – not us. And the reason no one seems to be doing anything about it is because it’s grown too complex. Nobody understands our system well enough to even ask the right questions. What can you do? John’s son has an answer: If human brains aren’t smart enough, why not feed all the data to computer algorithms?
I am fascinated by the potential positive uses of artificial intelligence. Especially by the idea that algorithms can uncover truly new knowledge about our world without us having to know what to ask – just by spotting patterns and correlations within vast troves of data. John Doe, Jr.’s epiphany seems both plausible and a bit idealistic. But it’s worth a shot, right?
Resonance Part 2: Digital Rain
Terry Mack is the guy who was in the band with John Doe (Part 1). They called themselves Doe Re: Mack. Terry may have loved music but he was raised as a hardcore capitalist, so he went to business school and killed it in the tech industry (he timed his birth just right). Naturally, he mocks Doe’s algorithm idea – not because he disagrees, but because he thinks ultra-capitalism is freaking awesome! And why not? It’s working for him!
Terry is, in a way, a victim of the morality-sucking feature of ultra-capitalism. He didn’t mean to become an asshole. Fortunately, he’s given an opportunity to see the truth. And it’s worse than we imagined. It looks like dystopia is unavoidable.
Digging deeper: Full disclosure: I wasn’t going to write a follow-up to John Doe Saves the World. But I kept wondering: Why wouldn’t little John’s idea work? Why haven’t we tried it? Why aren't we designing machines to answer real-world problems instead of Jeopardy! clues?
I fear we are steadily losing the power of free will. Think about it. Are the choices we make really our own? Who decides what news we see on Facebook, what we watch next on Netflix or YouTube, what we buy on Amazon? Slowly but surely, we are deferring to algorithms that know more about us than even we know. When you make a choice today, you must be aware of the forces acting to guide your decision, whether it regards a commercial transaction or a political belief. Because more and more we are persuaded not by reason but by emotions. And if there’s one thing the digital realm knows how to manipulate, it’s emotions.
Resonance Part 3: Trillionaire Zero
What is the worst-case scenario for about 30 years from now? I say just extrapolate from today and you’re there. Young Simon Simon narrowly avoided the internal refugee camps for the permanently unemployed. Will he honor his martyred father and put his found fortune to good works? Or will he succumb to primal ultra-capitalistic impulses and join the amoral plutocracy? Yes. It’s complicated.
Given Simon’s rather traumatic youth, which path would you take? Maybe you start out with the best intentions and maybe you think you’ll always have them.
Digging deeper: The world that Simon Simon inhabits is my best guess as to where ultra-capitalism takes us – barring some dramatic intervention. I made him the world’s first trillionaire – and who doubts that’s not going to happen in (most of) our lifetimes? When you push the capitalistic pedal to the metal, how does it not result in a cartoon-like amplification of the inequity we see around us today? Hence, we have a massive population of “Terminals” who will never work again; a smaller “inner class” who do necessary work; and the elite “Alphas” who control most capital and secretly plan the future. Bear in mind, the Alphas aren’t crooks. They followed the rules of ultra-capitalism, and they won.
The situation I needed to address in Part 3 seemed impenetrable. How do you change a system that is doing exactly what it’s designed to do, yet is causing untold suffering? So, I turned the question around: What would need to happen to us in order to break free? I looked for answers in the booming science of consciousness.
Resonance Part 4: A New Way Out
How could people stand by while their jobless neighbors are forced into government-run “Transition Communities” and later into a mega-ghetto called “Renaissance City”? Don’t judge! If you were one of the fortunate, you too might wish to be separated from a giant population of desperate, economically-ruined citizens. But what happens when one of those citizens is your dying mother’s sister?
Like Simon Simon, Christian Tollefsen is a creature of his environment. He is of the elite, a world away from the brainscaped masses. Neither could have predicted that one day they'd meet under the direst of circumstances and conduct a radical experiment that just might save the world.
Digging deeper: During the mid-2000s I got hooked on the science of consciousness. There is no agreement among researchers as to how consciousness arises from the lifeless building blocks of matter. It remains a huge mystery. I’ve dived deep into this subject, and I’m not alone in believing that consciousness cannot be explained as merely an emergent property of brains.
It seems rather hubristic to believe that, in a universe yet full of mysteries, something as fundamental and powerful as consciousness is not an actual property of the universe, like gravity and electromagnetism. And if consciousness is indeed a feature of the universe, then we are all connected.
Let love commence . . . Resonance.
Album illustrations by Sam Mayle | www.sammaylearts.com