ES­CAPE FROM RE­AL­ITY

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - İBRAHİM KALIN

AS WE are in­creas­ingly sur­rounded by an ar­ti­fi­cial re­al­ity, we are con­fronted with a set of com­pli­cated ques­tions con­cern­ing our hu­man­ity.

As new tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments en­able us to cre­ate vir­tual worlds and al­ter­nate realities, we in­creas­ingly face the prob­lem of es­cap­ing from re­al­ity and live in a fan­tasy world. Im­ages on screens are fast re­plac­ing the things them­selves, fur­ther alien­at­ing us from the nat­u­ral world and the world of real peo­ple. We like our own im­ages on screens more than our­selves. New de­vel­op­ments in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) will fur­ther take us into un­known ter­ri­to­ries. Can we as hu­man be­ings live in be­tween these al­ter­nate worlds and still re­tain our hu­man­ity?

Cre­at­ing al­ter­na­tive realities may not nec­es­sar­ily be a bad thing. This is what lit­er­a­ture of­fers us in cre­ative and en­rich­ing ways. Point­ing to an ideal world may help us keep our hopes and stan­dards high. But the same thing can be a delu­sional way of run­ning away from the re­al­ity that de­fines our hu­man con­di­tion and com­pels us to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our ac­tions. We run away from the re­al­ity in which we live be­cause we can no longer stand what we have cre­ated with our own hands. Re­plac­ing this re­al­ity with vir­tual worlds, ma­chines, ro­bots and AI in­ven­tions is not the way to find peace, tran­quil­ity, hap­pi­ness and a sense of ful­fill­ment. Rather, it is loos­ing our­selves in mul­ti­ple lay­ers of imag­i­nary worlds.

In re­cent years, sev­eral nov­els and movies have taken up this fas­ci­na­tion with the pos­si­bil­i­ties of AI and go­ing over the hu­man bound­aries. The Ma­trix tril­ogy, “Ex Machina,” “West­world,” “Black Mir­ror,” “I Ro­bot” and “Blade Run­ner 2049,” among oth­ers, tell the sto­ries of build­ing new realities with op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as the dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences. The com­mon theme is what de­fines hu­man­ity in the face of new tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments and the de­sire to want more of ev­ery­thing. What hap­pens when we out­grow our­selves and be­come cap­tives of our own cre­ations? As we know too well from the ever-fresh Franken­stein story, how do we deal with our own mon­sters?

The 2017 movie “Ghost in the Shell,” di­rected by Ru­pert San­ders and star­ring Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, takes up the ques­tion of what hap­pens when peo­ple use other hu­mans as ma­chines for their per­sonal gains and cor­po­rate in­ter­ests. The film’s lead char­ac­ter, Ma­jor Mo­toko Ku­sanagi (Jo­hans­son), is a cy­ber-en­hanced sol­dier fight­ing the world’s crim­i­nals. She is the first of her kind – a hu­man soul, or ghost, with new en­hance­ments and a ro­botic body, i.e., a shell. When she re­al­izes that she has been lied to and turned into an AI thing against her own will, she be­gins to ques­tion ev­ery­thing.

Al­though sim­plis­tic at times, the movie raises im­por­tant moral and philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions. What hap­pens when gov­ern­ments and big cor­po­ra­tions be­gin to al­ter peo­ple’s minds and souls to serve their in­ter­ests? Who has the right to re-de­sign peo­ple’s mem­o­ries and emo­tions so that they will not re­mem­ber any­thing and obey the com­mands? It is a be­trayal of our fun­da­men­tal hu­man val­ues to force peo­ple into believ­ing that they will have a bet­ter and hap­pier life in a fu­ture vir­tual world far more ad­vanced than the cur­rent re­al­ity in which they find them­selves be­cause they will no longer be them­selves but a sim­u­la­tion, a pro­gram, an en­hanced ghost in a per­fect body.

In “Ghost in the Shell,” some ter­ri­ble things hap­pen in the fu­ture dystopia. But we do not have to look far to see the dis­turb­ing fact that this is al­ready hap­pen­ing. Our cur­rent tech­nolo­gies and the profit-driven com­pa­nies that own them are seek­ing to change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions, de­sires and tastes so that they be­come un­ques­tion­ing ser­vants of con­sumer cap­i­tal­ism. They would feel good about them­selves by spend­ing more, by want­ing more and by be­com­ing some­thing other than them­selves. Worse, most peo­ple are will­ing to pay the price for this delu­sional mode of a per­fect ex­is­tence.

This seems to be punc­tu­ated by a deep de­sire to run away from our own re­al­ity to an imag­i­nary world at all costs. Why do peo­ple want to es­cape into a fan­tasy world while fully know­ing that it is just that, i.e., a fan­tasy world? What are we run­ning away from? What is miss­ing in our lives so much so that we take refuge in ar­ti­fi­cial and vir­tual worlds that we know very well to be un­real and fic­tional?

I am not sure if we are ready to ask these ques­tions to our­selves in a se­ri­ous and hon­est way. If and when we do, the magic of this self-grat­i­fy­ing il­lu­sion will dis­si­pate and we will per­haps face our naked hu­man­ity with its bless­ings and im­per­fec­tions. We may then re­al­ize that what de­fines our hu­man­ity does not lie in our abil­ity to cre­ate ma­chines bet­ter than us, but in treat­ing the world of na­ture and our fel­low peo­ple with in­tel­li­gence, care and love. Pro­duc­ing self-de­struc­tive sys­tems is not the smartest way of uti­liz­ing our God-given abil­i­ties.

In­stead of cre­at­ing fan­tasy worlds to es­cape re­al­ity, we have to change our own state of mind and soul so that we can live in har­mony with our own re­al­ity. Per­haps, we can try to im­prove the state of our re­al­ity so that we do not feel com­pelled to run away from it. This re­quires se­ri­ous ques­tion­ing of our mod­ern pri­or­i­ties and find­ing a new di­rec­tion in our lives, a di­rec­tion that will bring us closer to our in­ner re­al­ity and shared hu­man­ity.

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