The last week of the year is always spent in quiet reflection of the year gone by, computing our gains and losses, and sorting areas that will need fillip and fostering in the immediate future. As soon as we flip the calendar, old reflections morph into new resolutions. It has now become a ritual which has more primacy on social media than in real life, for a majority of resolutions fizzles out even before they gain momentum and achieve real-time results. Resolutions, needless to say, require a lot more pluck to realise than noble intentions.
As I write this piece in the closing hours of what was a tumultuous year, I am still deeply caught in contemplation and haven’t got sufficiently spurred into the ‘resolution’ phase. I have not figured out what I want to do in earnest in the coming year that will enhance me, or what I want to discard that will make a marked difference. I am wallowing in the hangover of a year that made me feel estranged and irrelevant for the most part. It was a year when changes in my immediate precincts and in the vast world around gave me a sense of ‘unbelonging’, almost as if the human sheath on me was beginning to lose its sheen and I was becoming a random stranger to a dynamic and whimsical exterior.
As I walk through the warrens of the most significant influences that had a bearing on human lives in the past year, what stands out in my mind is the emergence of AI, especially the generative kind. Along with it, the rapid manner in which creativity and genuine thought became subordinate to quickly concocted ideas through third-party interface that lacked the human essence. I realised that my opinion didn’t have to be my opinion at all. I could just be surrogate to a pile of AI generated ideas and pass it off as my own.
To a writer who has spent a lifetime scratching sentences that didn’t read well, or delivering stories and essays that were conceived in her womb, that was a blow. It made me feel outdated, and even ‘unsmart’ to spend inordinate amounts of time crafting an essay which could have been pulled out of the GPT hat in a jiffy. Somehow, my creativity looked like an also-ran in a marathon of brilliantly generated authorship burgeoning around me. My hard-spun passages became inconsequential in the frothy digitosphere.
Even as I watched saucer-eyed the advancement AI was making in fields that mattered to human lives as a tool for improving our future, I debated how far it could go to replace humans and replicate human emotions. I don’t even for a moment, give AI a short shrift or suspect its capacity to discover unknown realms of the physical world, but I genuinely worry that its influence could eventually shear the emotional quotient off us. We are well on our way to becoming a ruthless, self-centred species, no matter how hard we defend ourselves and vouch for our innocence and blame circumstances for our slow pestilence. Competition, consumerism, capitalism and communism (in no particular order and in various combinations) – the four big Cs have usurped the other two big Cs we have battled until now – Cancer and Covid.
It was a year when ‘slowing down’ and ‘pausing’ became infra dig, and ‘staying one-up’ and ‘pacing’ became the catchphrases. It was the glorious year of the millennials and Gen Zs. They rewrote the rules and came up with new codes to a ‘meaningful life’. They had gadgets and tech infusions to feed their frenzy. They found new frontiers to invade and went after their dreams like ravenous leopards. For someone like me whose dreams had matured and ambitions had mellowed, the blitzkrieg of the new times was blinding.
There were things I couldn’t comprehend and I found myself alienated in many instances. The need to conform or keep pace wasn’t compelling and the tendency to exclude became more frequent. When life around me began to take a superficial aspect, and the farce was further bolstered by digital dominance, I felt dissociated. What was true, what was false — no one could tell. What could be trusted, what should be doubted – no one could fathom. Who was a friend, who was a foe – no one could define. What was love, what was hate – no one could differentiate. What was success, what was failure – no one could outline.
Everything was pegged mostly to inanimate variables — AI, technology, materialism – all becoming essential parts of corporate pantomimes. With artificial intelligence emerged artificial emotions; technology robbed our realities and those who didn’t measure up or upgrade for the sake of the times became aliens to the changing scenario.
The year 2023 made vintage characters like me feel irrelevant to the new, ever-changing phenomena of human life. While the estrangement itself is not disconcerting, what makes the shift in the direction towards all things artificial are these questions – how less human will we eventually become? What essential elements will we readily jettison to devolve into a state of inanimate existence? How sooner will we turn inhumane and become irrelevant to ourselves?
(Asha Iyer Kumar is a Dubai-based columnist, author and children’s writing coach)
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