Generative artificial intelligence prefigures digital life. If the great geopolitical event of 2023 is the war in Gaza, perhaps the most important gathering has been the one held at Bletchley Park, where 28 countries warned about the existential danger posed by AI. The AI Safety Summit took place in November – a year after Open AI launched ChatGPT, a language model-based chatbox that has caused a global impact – in the mythical place where the mathematician Alan Turing cracked the code of the Engima machine used by Nazi Germany’s submarines during World War II. Applied to ChatGPT, the Turing test (a machine is intelligent if it is able to make people believe they are talking to a human being) would in many cases give a positive result, raising alarm over a post-human future, because beyond AI’s capacity to produce texts and images that jeopardize the work of creators like the Hollywood screenwriters and actors who this year went on strike for four months, this intelligence of machines incites the ancient fear of the mythical golem.
From the robot in Metropolis to the HAL computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the potential rebellion of mechanical or digital automatons has loomed over a human race that finds itself at a loss to control the impetuous advance of science. This magazine tagged the 1990s as ‘the digital decade,’ documented the digital house in 2005, and in 2009 described the digital deluge that architecture and publishing were experiencing, to then warn about the human engineering of robotics in 2017 and the digital bubble of crypto art in 2021, and in the meantime we have seen the invasion of everyday life by avatars turned into influencers, or the colonization of political communication by bots that have shaken such major processes as the American elections, the Brexit referendum, or the Catalonian plebiscite. But this latest manifestation of digital life – which in its universal repercussion surpasses the ruckus that erupted when Lee Sedol, the Chinese world champion of the game Go, lost to the program AlphaGo – puts us on unknown turf.
Technology firms and governments hope to regulate the genie before it escapes the bottle, but now may already be too late, and in any case the private and public players in this planetary drama keep developing AI for fear of getting left behind by their commercial or military rivals. When our biggest challenges are climate, wars, and migrations, what we call ‘technological singularity’ – the uncontrollable explosion of the intelligence of machines capable of building yet other machines – threatens our very existence like never before, and both the absence of global governance and the growing fractures in our social fabric leave humanity defenseless. Only the simultaneous presence of the two superpowers at Bletchley Park offers a ray of hope in a horizon of storm clouds. Digitally generated texts, images, and persons are not immaterial, considering that to make and maintain them, enormous quantities of energy and water are required; but they have indeed managed to blur the very limits of reality, confusing voices with echoes, and organic life with digital life.