As I See It: Love and insanity: AI and the reawakening of American humanity

Jon Huer

Jon Huer


Published: 02-09-2024 8:53 PM

During this past Christmas, our son, who is an artificial intelligence expert for a Fortune 500 company, spent a week with us and convinced us that artificial intelligence’s involvement in our daily lives in America is much more extensive than publicly known and its replacement of humans will be much sooner than anticipated.

His parting wisdom: If we wanted to survive as humans, we’d better be prepared for the day when we would be replaced by AI machines. Is AI coming as the destroyer of our individual intelligence or the liberator of humanity from its work drudgery? Indeed, how do we prepare for the day when we clear out of our office to make room for AI in this wholly new relationship between man and machine? As human workers and consumers in a tightly organized capitalist system, our record of work and play is not very good.

At work, we labor daily as we are ordered; off work, we play with TV or internet, or do drugs or drink, whatever to tickle our funny bones; we spend money if we have it; if we don’t have it, we go sell our labor to earn it; we do things if we approve, and tune them out if we don’t, so on so forth — always predictably like well-programmed robots or well-trained children.

In this style of life, or non-life, we might have a tough time listing what “human” activities we ever performed in the last 24 hours. Even birthday cards are written by wordsmiths as we cannot come up with enough sweet words on our own. If the almighty gave us a commandment to do something as a human being now, most of us wouldn’t know what to do. In the face of impending AI replacement or liberation, we must now figure out what it is to live like real human beings, likely for the first time in our lives.

So, whether AI is coming as the apocalyptic destroyer or heavenly liberator, we must find our antidote by rediscovering our lost humanity. Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler is vastly optimistic that our unique “humanness” will trump the AI machine. “Humans are endowed,” says he [“AI Machines Can’t Think,” Jan. 7), “with empathy, pleasure, ambition, creativity, emotion, love, loyalty, humor, responsibility, faith, trust, delight, despair, intuition, stubbornness.”

To put such optimism in perspective, we can simply ask ourselves: With all such wonderful human attributes, why are we now at the mercy of the AI machines?

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Obviously, we as humans have not put all of our attributes to daily practice. We need to turn potentiality into actuality. So, let’s simplify Kessler’s range of human actions into two elementary forms: to love and to go insane. These are two unique human abilities that machines, by their nature and logic, cannot imitate. It is only in love and insanity that we can become creative and free as humans, doing all the “human” things that Kessler lists.

Someday police might adopt these human peculiarities to separate humans from machine-imitators among us. Nowadays, many Americans look human enough, but they may fail their love-and-insanity test as they have been working and playing more like robots than humans.

Obviously, we need to know more about love and insanity. Love, as an act unique to humanity, is always about other human beings, not yourself, so that it represents the most difficult of all human achievements, that is, controlling yourself. In essence, we cannot love another human being, especially a stranger not directly related to us, unless our selfishness is under control.

It is particularly rare and difficult in a self-glorifying “me, me, me” society like America. But loving others is what sets us apart from machines and animals, as this kind of self-sacrificing the AI machine can never do.

When Jesus told us to “love one another,” he meant especially those, like our enemies, not so easy to love. A deformed child is loved by his own mother, perhaps with special devotion, but an AI progenitor would surely discard a malfunctioning descendant-son (unless it’s a “Christian” AI-machine).

To complement love as a unique human act, insanity is your freedom from social norms, rules and bondage that enslave you. Sometimes it comes as a political revolution, sometimes as a new artistic vision and spiritual epiphany, not infrequently as a creative way of living and looking at the world differently. Proclaiming yourself as a free human being, unchained by tradition and convention, you are redefining your own well-being and value as a human being.

Naturally, such acts of freedom require a form of daring insanity, even the risk of being “crazy.” As employees and consumers, we work and play in a “social prison” — secure and well-supplied but without love or freedom, and it’s insanity that frees us.

Someday, our beloved Greenfield Recorder will be produced entirely by AI, and the most troublesome section of the paper for the new AI-manager will be the Opinion page. Its free and wild opinions — angry, humorous, silly, sentimental, wise, instructional, even stupid — are love and insanity in a nutshell, not easily imitated by AI. Indeed, opinions are the only true testimonials from our community. The rest is just routine filler-facts.

So, let’s rediscover our humanity by feeling the love that we haven’t felt toward other human beings and demanding the individual freedom that we hardly miss as democratic citizens. Write your opinion letters to the Recorder today, with civic passion and collective action, in a way that can come only from a human heart and imagination. Your rehumanization process might have just begun.

Jon Huer, columnist for the Recorder and retired professor, lives in Greenfield.