Chatbots from the Edge
Let’s deal with current challenges, not science fiction
All the talk of UFOs flying above us and being shot down takes me back to my youth when I read science fiction novels about invasions by space aliens. Some covers would feature an alien carrying a scantily clad, busty young woman, invariably unconscious. That was before Sigourney Weaver kicked butt in the Alien movies.
If I were commissioning art for those books, I would base a cover on Michelangelo’s Pietà, with a beautiful young man passed out in the alien’s arms. Just because you’re a bug-eyed monster out to conquer the Earth doesn’t mean you can’t have good taste. This, however, was the 1970s, when most sci-fi editors were nerdy straight guys with cramped imaginations.
Another development that echoes sci-fi stories is Microsoft’s artificially intelligent Bing chatbot that professed its love for one reporter and described dark fantasies like hacking computers.
I’m not too worried about chatbots, though they could well replace House Republicans who haven’t an ounce of wit but can recite the latest talking points. Would anyone notice if Kevin McCarthy were replaced with a robot? (I apologize to robots for that remark.)
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted recently that an alien species capable of crossing the vastness of space would be far more advanced than humans and would not need to sneak around.
At present, we are unlikely to encounter alien spacecraft—much less shoot them down—and are not at a point when sentient computers will launch wars on their own, though our technology advances faster than our wisdom.
Entertaining as they are, science-fiction scenarios are a distraction from present-day threats like nihilistic demagogues manipulating gullible people. Who needs shape-shifting aliens when we have Nikki Haley? She is so all over the place in her pandering to the Republican base that she could have been one of the victims in the movie Jaws.
After Haley’s presidential campaign launch in which she said America is not racist (which raises the question why she found it necessary to abandon her first name, Nimrata), conservative troll Ann Coulter told her, “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” It is discouraging that, after such a long struggle, the right wing still does not see large swaths of America’s population as Americans.
But the fact that Trump’s MAGA hordes don’t even bother faking moderation is their Achilles heel. They constantly go too far with their ridiculous rhetoric. For example, QAnon cultists insist that Democrats are satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles. Granted, I think freshman Congressman Maxwell Frost of Florida is brilliant and adorable, but the most I would do is join him for lunch, not have him for lunch. And he is 25, not 15. As for devil worship, they should stop projecting.
The Gen Z-ers of which Frost is the vanguard are not troubled by sexual minorities, and are not traumatized by learning the less heroic details of America’s past. These young citizens are used to mass-shooting drills. They are familiar with diversity and do not regard it as an existential threat.
Not most of them, at least. Without fixations and resentments being passed down from generation to generation, there would not still be people eager to re-fight the Civil War. But shielding children from outside influences is increasingly difficult.
The far right in its paranoia is unable to adjust to changing demographic trends and is uninterested in solutions. By contrast, the emerging generation will not be fooled by bullies who pose as freedom lovers, nor tolerate greedy industrialists who socialize risks while privatizing profits.
That’s my bet. There is more of a future in cooperating to solve problems together. Still, Republicans enjoy structural advantages in our political system (e.g., the Senate and Electoral College), and have been taken over by fanatics as surely as if they were alien changelings. It’s like the old movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Don’t go to sleep!
A friend warns, regarding Twitter, “You never know whether you’re engaging a person or a bot.” True, but sometimes a writer’s work involves dancing on the edge. And simulated friends might assuage someone’s isolation at a remote outpost. In the end, however, we need flesh-and-blood people in our lives, not just imitations on a screen.
If we broke out of our electronic bubbles and encountered actual human beings more often, right there in front of us, who knows? It might restore a healthy dose of reality to our politics. ▼
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at email@example.com.