Being a Reform-Luddite in the age of AI
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
Man, and the MachiNe
What happens when a machine starts questioning our ways of the world? That is the essence of the renowned film maker Satyajit Ray's short story 'Anukul'. The story explores big ideas such as intelligence vs. instinct, loyalty and robotic "feelings".
In early 90's I read that short story. Ray's dystopian world came alive in a dark, edgy film by Sujoy Ghosh called 'MAchiNe'in 2017. It is equally relevant till today.
We know by now robots are going to take up most of our jobs in near future. It won't matter any more, whether the machine will ever achieve the human like consciousness or not. It will do just enough but in a less expensive way.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warn us, that AI may pose an existential threat to humanity.
While I was reading some articles on “health and well-being” for a workshop called “Business of the future”, I had a dilemma and apathy towards the reading. I thought, there were too much technology. Such as in future, nursing will be replaced by robots and Doctors replaced by machine will diagnose our health. I was missing the human element in them.
I voiced my frustration in the forum discussion, with a fear to be stigmatised as primitive and non-progressive.
Fortunately, my group pulled out a discussion which I can relate to, and what was meaningful to us.
In future, there will be genetically designed perfect babies, with Angelina Jolie look alike face, and intelligence comparable to Einstein. New inventions will erase the age from our body graph. And soon Silicon Valley will crack the immortality code.
The tyranny of technology doesn't stop here. News emerge such as “Anthony Levandowski, (a former Google engineer) is developing an AI god!
Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan says “religion and science converge conceptually in the singularity”. He also mentions, an AI-based God is likely to be more rational and more attractive than current concepts “this God will actually exist and hopefully will do things for us.” (Deus ex machina: former Google engineer is developing an AI god,2017)
Are we surprised? May be not any more. Still body gives an uncanny sensation. I think it's utterly perverse! When millions of people are dying without access to the basic amenities like food, water and shelter, enormous amount of moneys is invested in such absurd invention! What is wrong in greying gracefully and leave the space for next generations? Or believe in the old almighty or just being atheist. Honestly, do we really need another religion? Don't we already have trouble enough due to religion?
Dilemmas and reflections
In one hand, I have these aversions towards the modern urban life and on the other, I am also comfortable with all things” i”, the iPhone, iPad,” i” myself, plagued by the narcissism of the selfie culture. An insecurity drives me thinking, If I don't follow the way technology is moving then I am 'uncool' or even 'primitive'.
I guess the seduction of technology are too hypnotic!
Then, I also think, I will not enslave by the technology and indulge myself in digital detox.
Today technology is literally controlling the way we eat, drink and be merry! For every possible thing, we have Apps.
Deep inside, I feel, I have a systemic rejection towards the urbanised, mechanical, individualistic, sedentary life and I am rather comfortable with typical esoteric ideas of 70's.
If I should reflect on why it is like that, I should contribute that to my upbringing in Santiniketan.
The name of the ashram 'Santiniketan' literally means 'adobe of peace'. It is a small university town, founded by Rabindra Nath Tagore.
I grew up amidst of green, in a simple harmonic life, far from the madding crowd of the city, untouched by the lure of materialistic world. Machines didn't take over our life then, much emphasis was put on the other ways of knowing than just cognitive. We experienced and embodied nature effortlessly and found many ways to express them.
The motto of life was at home or in the school ” simple living and high thinking”.
That lesson of simplicity makes me grounded in life. There is a life beyond technology.
There is an anti-technology movement already exist, in every walk of life including the Silicon Valley. There are surge of niche communities who refuse the existing norm of living and leading an alternative lifestyle with a harmony with mother earth and fellow human being. Who doesn't get deluded by the pragmatism of the hollow, technology oriented society. Instead embrace the transition, proclaim the conformity of 'hand, head and heart'.
There is a resurgence of craft renaissance taking place and been noticed.
There is resurrection of Letter press printing, home breweries. Women reviving traditional craft such as embroidery and crochet as a feminist expression of art or activism (knit graffiti, yarn bombing).
The tactile feeling of kneading the dough, or the aroma of newly baked bread is an embodied experience than just eating them.
We are probably trying to chase authenticity in our mundane automatised life.
Luddites and Neo Luddites
The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. Luddites objected primarily to the rising popularity of automated textile equipment, threatening the jobs and livelihoods of skilled workers as this technology allowed them to be replaced by cheaper and less skilled workers(Wikipedia)Neo-Luddites is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology. The movement has connection with many other movement such as anti-globalization movement, radical environmentalism and deep ecology. Neo-Luddism calls for slowing down, and embracing a simple living sans technology or less of it. They reject the idea that new technology can solve the problem of nuclear warfare, environmental degradation, they are generally against anthropocentric, globalization and industrial capitalism (Wikipedia)
Reform Luddites doesn't ignore the benefit of the modern technology or new media. But they prefer less of it and enjoys more offline experiences.
I can easily identify myself with the 'reform Luddites'. I am much in sync with similar lifestyle. My activism is also similar to the Luddites, against the big industrialised garment sector without the violent part of it though.
Being in the fashion industry for a long time, I know it is just not always the basic need or even appreciation of artistic creation. It is plain capitalism and push consumerism.
Big brands produce for 4 seasons and micro collections even if there is no demand. The supply is often more than the demand. So the big brands like H&M had to burn down the unsold garments (The Danish TV programme Operation X from TV2, 2017) Though H&M is good at 'green washing' and maintain a rather successful sustainable image.
Just writing about it makes me outrageous! Why produce so much on the first place? My aversion towards the fast-paced industrialised garment sector made me advocate against the growth paradigm and embrace the slow fashion and handmade.
Luddism in practice
I am trying to push the ideology of 'De-growth' and principal of transition town both in global south and global north. I am working with design institute and designers in India.
What I realised, though, theoretically practising the philosophy of” Degrowth” in global north is easier as global north has reached a certain level of development. But in practice global south is more adaptive to the concept, at least in certain context.
The reason behind it is, the west is very used to with technology and it is difficult for them to leave the convenience of technology and adopt the manual lifestyle.
Whereas in the global south most of the people still rely on hands than the machine. From making food, houses, clothes, or to washing clothes. Especially, the rural areas are still functioning manually.
At time, I ask myself, why am I in a hurry? Won't it be nice to slow down and enjoy life?
And other time I am also in the rat race, in a fear of lagging behind. That fear often controls us and we forgot to experiment or experience life out of the bubble of convenience. The availability of ready made, ready to eat, in our fast-paced life, spoilt us!
If I consider the three horizon tool, It is very easy to move from Horizon 3 to Horizon 2 in India, while I was talking about 'Degrowth ' in textile, fashion industry in India.
There is a precious textile heritage in India , where every state offers their unique tradition.
Sadly, there are lot of weavers now out of work or trying to survive with cheap alternative. Such as adopting polyester instead for silk. Or partly automated looms as against fully handloom.
But luckily there are many designer including me, taking innovative paths towards a viable future. Making things hand-spun, Hand woven, hand embroidered, handmade. Using natural fabrics, and reviving crafts, promoting sustainable and slow fashion. Some of us are still proud of our rich textile heritage and nurture it.
Denmark is known for rich tradition of Danish design (furniture, ceramics, textile etc.) and respected for the same. My mother in law is a widely respected textile artist who still weaves beautiful tapestry at the age of 93. In her life as an teacher she taught many successful tapestry artist the hand spinning, veg dyes and hand weaving.
The making of crafts becomes a paradox in our times when short-term solutions and financial gain often is prioritised over long term perspectives.
Recently, the Danish Government closed down the textile department in the Danish Royal academy (KADK). As nobody pursue the old traditional ways and the department is not creating jobs for the students.
So reviving spinning, hand dyeing, printing is a revolutionary act itself. Some Scandinavian institute dare to take that path though.
Kunstakademiet I Tromsø in Norway is reviving hand spinning from locally sourced wool. And Åbo Akademi University in Finland is holding network meeting on sustainability with the focus on the craft sector.
What kind of space we belong to?
It is a matter of choice which space we will be in. Sometimes the contrasts can coexist peacefully but often they make conflicts. We are constantly drawing lines, choosing boundaries. Choice between man and machine, nature and technology, war and peace and so on.
The question will remain, what
kind of space are we in?
There will be large 3D printers.
Some people will dream of the
creation of an honest nostalgia.
There will be places to jump
around and wrestle.
Fed Ex boxes will arrive every
day full of unexpected things.
Liam Gillick, Art Basel 2017
I realise, I am not the only who is drawing inspiration from the past, there are people like me, and am slowly connecting with their vibes. Interestingly, they are mostly young.
We mutually inspire each other, provoke thoughts, practice our philosophies in life.
I feel confident in this space, it gives me hope, though there are reasons to have despair.
One day probably, I can let go of all the technology which enslaved me and live life more in harmony with things that really matters.
Telepathy will take over telephone and inner connection will replace internet connection.
The biggest irony is, when I am writing this article on anti-technology I am still depending on technology.
So, I can confess, for now, I choose and balance and live a life like a Reform Luddites.
Author: Satyajit Ray
Operation X from TV2, 2017
Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates Warn About Artificial Intelligence
Deus ex machina: former Google engineer is developing an AI god
A Field Guide to Anti-Technology Movements, Past And Present, life-without-technology