‘Technology and the End of the Future’: Understanding James Bridle’s vision of the future | by Peter Manthos | CodeX | Jun, 2022
In a talk in TEDxPatras in 2019 titled ‘When Artificial Intelligence meets the Earth’, the speaker, James Bridle, described an idyllic rural setting in Epirus, Greece where he was with some friends on the side of a lake, as the sun was setting down. Someone was playing the clarinet, the frogs made noises, it was a very peaceful scene. A little later, he took a walk around the woods and noticed some wooden stakes driven into the ground carrying tags with letters and numbers written on them. These markers were part of an enormous grid stretching thousands of kilometers across Epirus, to be used in a seismic exploration program aiming to discover exploitable deposits of oil and gas.
Here in this idyllic environment AI programs were developed and used to produce what ultimately could destroy nature: more oil production and consumption, yet another example of controversial use of technology — using highly developed technology regardless of the environmental or social cost.
James Bridle is a British writer, artist, journalist, and technologist, born in 1980 and currently based in Greece. He holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Cognitive Science, specializing in Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence. He writes about literature, culture, and networks and his articles have been published by Wired, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Financial Times. He gives lectures regularly on radio, at conferences, universities, and other events, and he has been an Adjunct Professor on the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, a Lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute, and a convenor of the School of Infinite Rehearsals , Onassis AIR, Athens.
James Bridle wrote New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (2018) and ‘New Ways of Seeing: Beyond Human Intelligence’ (2022).
In ‘New Dark Age’ he offers a grim outlook of our incapacity to deal with increasingly complex technological processes that affect our ability to think, to understand, and to act.
he says: “Over the last century, technological acceleration has transformed our planet, our societies, and ourselves, but it has failed to transform our understanding of these things. The reasons for this are complex, and the answers are complex too, not least because we ourselves are utterly meshed in technological systems, which shape in turn how we act and how we think. We cannot stand outside them; we cannot think without them.
Our technologies are complicit in the greatest challenges we face today: an out-of-control economic system that immiserates many and continues to widen the gap between rich and poor; the collapse of political and societal consensus across the globe resulting in increasing nationalisms, social divisions, ethnic conflicts and shadow wars; and a warming climate, which existentially threatens us all.”
In his book, he uses many disciplines, from computer science to geography and meteorology, and from history to politics, to prove his basic proposition: the more information we collect about the world, the less we are able to understand it. For Bridle, our capacity to produce and process ever-increasing quantities of information is not matched with a corresponding increase in our understanding of the world. We possess vast quantities of knowledge, but we have not yet learned how to think. The vision of the world produced by almost infinite computing power requests always more — more energy, more data, but this generates a vicious circle: the solution only accelerates the symptoms it intends to solve. Our current social and environmental problems, constitute what he describes as a coming ‘New Dark Age’, an era for which we are urgently required to develop new ways of understanding, analyzing, and reacting to the technology that shapes our world. We need a new kind of ‘Technical Literacy’.
In his latest book ‘New Ways of Seeing: Beyond Human Intelligence’in the light of the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, James Bridle examines once more the impact of technology on modern societies and explores how a broader understanding of rationality should help us reexamine the assumption about the preeminence of humanity.
Exploring the intelligence of animals such as octopuses, bees, and even plants, Bridle calls for an understanding of intelligence other than ours as a means to understand the complex interactions of technology, society, and the environment, using artificial intelligence to help us solve problems in another way by following the logic inherent in nature and living organisms.
At the conclusion of the book, Bridle returns to Epirus to witness an entirely different project in development: a metal farm. Recently researchers identified some families of plants called hyperaccumulators, capable of growing in soils rich in metals. These plants draw up the metal from the soil and store it in their shoots and leaves, repairing the soil in the process. As the soils in the area contain chromium, iron, cobalt, and nickel — most plants struggle to survive in them, this project called agromining would allow to remedy polluted soils and to harvest and exploit metal at the same time, quite the opposite of the philosophy of the oil and gas development project mentioned above.
Bridle’s artwork revolves around his books. Showcased in Galleries and Museums as well as online, his works present ideas and techniques for alternative uses of technology such as the Aegina Batterya lemon-powered battery (http://jamesbridle.com/works/aegina-battery), Windmill 03a recreation of a traditional Greek windmill (http://jamesbridle.com/works/windmill-03), the Radiolaria Seriesa collection of 100W Photovoltaic generators engraved with images of radiolaria — microscopic sea organisms constructing mineral skeletons from silica (http://jamesbridle.com/works/solar-panels-radiolaria-series), Server Farma project to build a computer using plants and other living organisms (http://jamesbridle.com/works/server-farm-test-plot-001) and Saronic Segala timber-framed family bedroom structure that can be constructed by novice builders (http://jamesbridle.com/works/saronic-segal).
in his blog booktwo.org (http://booktwo.org) he writes about his artworks and his ideas.