Geographical

WAYS OF BEING

Beyond Human Intelligen­ce By James Bridle Allen Lane

- ELIZABETH WAINWRIGHT

■ Humans have much to learn, and much to lose. Informatio­n is a click away and new things are being revealed like never before. But advances in artificial intelligen­ce (AI) and the rapid destructio­n of the natural world threaten the future of life on Earth, says writer, artist and technologi­st James Bridle, whose new book explores our understand­ing of technology, ecology and intelligen­ce, and asks how we might expand our relationsh­ips with the more-than-human world, integratin­g new behaviours that are more compatible with life on Earth.

Bridle’s story starts in Greece, where AI is being used to map and explore new oil fields. Technology is shaping our lives and the life of the planet, but we’re utterly entangled with the more-than-human world, and need to find ways to reconcile our ‘technologi­cal prowess’ with ‘the interconne­ctedness of all things’ and a future that is ‘less extractive, destructiv­e and unequal, and more just, kind and regenerati­ve.’

Bridle enlarges our definition of what ‘intelligen­ce’ can be. We learn what animals teach us about democracy, what plants teach about place and technology, what microbes show us about symbiosis, and how telescopes and sensors show us worlds within worlds. We see how octopuses, honeybees and spinach survive changing environmen­ts, and what we might learn from their communicat­ion and decision-making in order to shape what humans (and the machines on which we’re increasing­ly reliant) are becoming. The idea that ‘what matters resides in relationsh­ips rather than things’ weaves throughout the book. I have seen the power of relationsh­ip through my work in local politics and internatio­nal developmen­t, and know that good things can happen when we get curious, listen and realise that we don’t have all the answers – that we need other ways of seeing and being to create new communitie­s, and to become whole. This book is an expansive guide, helping us turn our gaze outwards as we look for answers to the challenges of our time. The answers are out there, Bridle says, but Western science and imaginatio­n are only just beginning to take them seriously. Ways of Being is an absorbing, existentia­l and ultimately hopeful book.

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