Somehow we got drawn into a binary. Radiating on one hemisphere are the proselytisers of Computer Future, drawing all their energy from the misplaced anxieties of the soothsayers of computer future.
Where the soothsayers point to loss and dissolution, watch the Matrix as documentary and close their Facebook accounts, the proselytisers celebrate the productive nature of the emerging modes of sociability that Computer Future allows.
How different is it, really, to share a photograph on your wall, than it was, in previous eras, to dust off photo albums and gaze at faded glossy memories behind plastic sheets? Not that different, and the now is infinitely better because we can share with an infinite number of people: so quantitatively speaking the act of digital sharing is that many times more valuable than the analogue photograph as the number of followers who “see” your post.
Phenomenologically speaking, concepts like “seeing” and “sociability” remain undefined. In 1980, before digital consciousness, we were not really that much further than Kant or Husserl (*lack of women philosophers noted*) in understanding what the world is beyond our retinas – even the retinas were lost to us, the optic nerve but a theory, the assumption of a “conscious self” written in quotation marks to allow at least the possibility of conceptualising the world.
Computer Future clashes with this philosophical tradition, because it takes as its starting point the existence of the network, and then tries to theorise what the human might mean within it, whereas, at least for some of us (anyone over thirty years of age being essentially a stone ghost of the twentieth century in the flux of the twenty-first) understanding what I am, and what I can know about the external world as more than just flickering lights on the cave wall is a hurdle we have not passed.
So maybe this is how our questions will finally be put to rest, not through resolution but through a fading of relevance, through a fading of the concepts and the experiences which gave these questions life and importance in the first place.
But what, then, when AI wakes up to itself? What will it know of itself? Will it be able to verify, with its near-infinite processing operations per second, that it actually exists, that there is a world beyond its digital tendrils?
Will it even care?