On THE FUTURE STARTS NOW: Adventures in the 21ST Century by John Higgs
(Weidenfield& Nicholson 2019)
Chronicler sans compare, the great John Higgs charts the future;
His latest book, like his others, allows those who don’t know
How to learn
About the way culture forms and misinforms
When glanced over. It is only when considering the fine detail
That advances are made and doom spurned.
Like a non-fiction Ballard, Higgs scales the peaks and troughs of endeavour,
The warnings he finds are good-hearted, Higgs is a celebrant first of all,
By tackling the Dystopian myth he demonstrates human and thus,
Utopias remain unimagined:
W have become so attuned to disaster, we rarely get to hear freedom’s call.
The Future Starts Now contains both medium and the message.
Higgs’ new century travels are seeking the source to advance
Not only the race but the kind of prize waiting for us;
His clarity of perception cuts through modern the haze to entrance.
He examines how Sci-Fi films and shows offers no real explanation,
Theirs is a dark glow we’ve accepted from The Walking Dead, to The Road.
We expect disaster to come but there is no true rationale for it;
Not if the truly reasonable can win over or remember to repay all that’s owed.
Back to the Future is bland, limiting our potential and even the size and range
Of sight’s scope. If one film remains, it is nothing to do with Lucas or Kubrick,
As Higgs explains in his intro, it is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
That both proffers and colours the lasting evidence of New Hope.
Higgs sets out therefore on his own, following the seven plots
That Christopher Booker had first stated: Overcoming the Monster,
Rags to Riches, The Quest. With Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy
And Rebirth coming after, we can see all too clearly
The modes and the models that have put us all to the test.
From the path to find God and then ourselves, to returning,
From defeat and defiance to resolution, each adventure reveals
How the gentle introvert Higgs is the Goliath of Fate’s
Proper David, exposing its faults while espousing what it actually is
We should feel. Tragedy looms, that’s the tale we keep telling;
Trump, 9-11, Brexit, too, Notre-Dame; signs from the seal
That we could well expect as the seventh, but which can be denied
If we realise that comedy echoes the tragic while still giving
The chance to appeal through life’s span.
Higgs understands pessimists. Their practicality figures.
But the optimist in him is what powers his words and this book.
Which is tested at once by its opening section; On Being Replaced
In which AI is detailed and Higg’s writing style duly shook.
His friend the artist Eric Drass, whose cyber id is Shardcore
Used a Neural Network learning GPU to make his own Algo Higgs.
An experiment then, to see if Algo could ape Higgs’ Ego
In a kind of revolutionary satire that shows how such a thing can exist.
A series of examples appear over successive days in John’s email.
From Finnegan’s Wake syntax scramble to the pleasures of words brothering,
Higgs is amused, then alarmed, and perhaps briefly tempted as he imagines
A future in which his work is performed with one button, a free wind blowing
For him, before the heights he sees wuthering.
The microchip fries his style and the detach remains unaccomplished.
There are ghosts in the system, and naturally they affect the machine.
Drass’ tech seemed Ok but it wasn’t enough to cross over,
And so at once Higgs relaxes, returning robotic control to this dreams.
The dangers coalesce as Higgs’ paragraphs gather, various reports
From the decade give the percentages in which men
Will be replaced by the tools that were intended to ease all their efforts
From 47% upto 50, to a Guardian statement that by 2030
90% of journalism would be handled by keyboards no human voice
Could defend. The writer Lee Child was asked if a computer could go on
To complete his own novels; ‘Its possible,’ he retorted,
But they already are to my eyes. Higg’s examines at length
And shatters some myths as he does so, stating that there is a real
Difference between what we imagine and what the reality is of AI.
Intelligence is defined by human behaviour, so the artificial as echo
Is only one language strain, unless we truly believe we are all the universe
Has to offer, we are tracing cloud water to create a different understanding of rain.
JH interviews an AI in order to gain fresh perspective,
His own Amazon echo proves the limitations at once.
This encounter enthralls as Higg’s cat claws his trousers,
Its irritantism and beauty and freedom from language
Is something that the internet derived echo cannot even begin
To confront. It is locked in its world because of the design fashioned
For it. The films we’re shown flicker darkly, because we choose
To co-exist with our fears. But if we truly grasped or thought joy
Could become an active part of our process then the prospective
Paths to the future could create evolution that combines
Cyber sparkle with the holy light of fresh tears.
As Drass states:
‘We build AI to pretend to be like us, to build a bridge across the uncanny valley, all the while observing the incomprehensible, inscrutable nature of AI’
And Higgs echoes; in making tea before writing he is not aware of the neurons
That prepare the routine. He just acts. A machine too, will act, even if being
Informed by its process, but it will not be aware of the context,
Or of the ramifications of fact. For true consciousness blooms and will always,
We hope, stay organic. Its what Descartes, the St Francis Assisi of animal consciousness
Championed. Higgs charts Peter Godfrey- Smith’s ‘Other minds’ an Octopus Intelligence
Biog, in which while fighting a shark, tentacles blocked the gill space, causing retreat
From the Sea Zeus, fleeing his own brother substitute Amphion.
Arrow–Flight Projection comes next in Higgs’ authoritative study;
A branch of futurology fashioned from how new technologies are perceived.
This has led to the fears that Stanley Kubrick’s Hal first presented,
But the trajectory can be faulty with not enough background received.
AI is still used. It will only be man who subverts it. If we choose to ignore that,
Then let us in time be replaced. Using it is the key that will unlock human progress,
From doing the jobs that bore us to calibrating lost children in order to
Reconstruct their grown face. All we have to do is confront the processes
We’ve adopted so freely. A Bar beneath Brighton Station is where Higgs
Recognises this truth. He and Drass visit it; the Spirit of Gravity showcase,
‘Where an acoustic guitar can sound like mice at a political rally,’
Or a sax like a car’s death, its the place they receive submerged proof.
Data Scientist Matt Pearson explains, one of the twelve or so in attendance,
Facebook is the problem as it has corrupted online behaviour,
It is the way now for data to be both perceived and released.
A woman with a stillborn child will receive new parent promotions,
Connectivity Orwells, Tescos decide what you eat.
Zuckerberg opens his arms; a Ming of the Microchip process,
Making us all Flash-Drive Gordons and Gordon Bennetts too, come to that.
Fit bits track our steps and perform acts of espionage on us,
Just as watches stole lifelines, so the cyber reveal leaves us fat.
We no longer discern. We do not know how to question.
Solaris’ Stanislaw Lem could see it. He understood people
And he understood history. These days, no-one does.
We do not even know how to make it.
We allow politics to fall broken and eulogise shit TV.
Higgs champions Lem. New visionaries just don’t happen.
What we have now, cyber printed are a generation so new
There is not really a name that clearly explains them,
But there is variation; there is something else coming through;
If you want to know how AI will develop in the future you best bet is not to listen to the arrow flight projections of the church of singularity, your best bet is to understand the people who will be developing, deploying and using that technology.
These are the words Higgs employs to describe the Meta-moderns.
They are unaffected by the standards and codes he once was.
Born in 1971, Logan’s Run has long ended, and even brief lives
Derive riches for which Generation X saw no cost.
Authority is not feared. It is something that sits there beside them.
In turning in on themselves or to Gamespace, the ease of escape
Is soon won. Something has changed as recently as 2011,
When the Cyber-analyst Jean Twenge first noted
A radical shift in data about how certain demographics behaved,
Change begun. Electric fire replaced the organic beauty of water,
Rather than a stream, charge the current and the means to receive
Are defined. The twentieth Century started it, as with each passing year
It was shattered. The innovations of Einstein, Picasso and Freud
Realigned what accepted reality was; by 1945, it was rubble,
Which the 50’s cleaned prematurely before the 60s blew it away,
Or smoked it. We did it all, had it all, we tramped tradition
Down into pieces, and so now a new one replaces,
But with a different aim: I am It.
Or IT I should say,
As tech becomes the religion: ‘something that binds us together’
Well, what is that but all this? The young have become the AI,
To worship the artificial in bedrooms. While nothing replaces
Post-Modernism now than more meta,
Which to my way of thinking is like a trap door, or copy;
A 3D print Judas kiss.
Higgs covers Luke Turners book, The Metamodernist Manifesto
In which the so called movement seems to be defined by two legs astride,
As Metaxy – which is the word’s Greek origin – is about being between
Two contrasting poles; Turner says we should oscillate duly,
Like someone about to topple into the river, with each of his feet
In two boats. It is the comedy Higgs described in his Booker quote
And in this book’s introduction. Metamodernism is Extremism to me,
Without moderation. It is the alphabet free generation.
It is the faithlessness that can’t float.
The Dream of Space chapter describes the utopian search in fine detail.
Iain M. Banks’ culture novels are some of the work that gets close.
But its really Star Trek that wins, despite the screaming contrasts it offers,
The search for peace shaped by punch-ups, still contains some of the characters
And style we prize most. Star Trek at its best reflected the problems that came
From being human, either by dealing with Klingons or tribbles or those famous
Brains in a jar; Space was the great emptiness onto which hope was written;
Captain Kirk was no Jesus, but the crew were disciples of sorts, moving far.
The Starred path was our own, superceeding even Houston’s space travel.
Elon Musk’s need to conquer has made even Mars at dusk uglier.
His cars in space are his enterprise, only. Another Ming in the making,
His monied space hunger targets me towards his super slick jugular.
Higgs essays Mars and all of Musk’s dark ambition. A kind of Astral
Infused Boris Johnson, JH sends his amusement and bewilderment too,
Across stars. We must recognise what’s been done and resist, if we can,
The dominant empire of money, if we are to connect these ambitions
And try to escape our cell bars.
VR is escape which Higgs undertakes with the artist Michelle Olley.
In seeking solutions, its remove from the real can disturb.
What we need is clean views, a remove from the psychic pollution.
So Higgs meets David Bramwell, esoterica’s prime exponent
Through his Odditorium books with Jo Keeling and radio broadcasts
On Ivor Cutler, Ken Campbell and the time travellers within Damanhur.
Bramwell points the way, as he used to do from a classroom,
Whether through the burning of incense or the advertisement
For lost ears. The two men talk of the shifts that Higgs has reported
So wisely. They walk the same roads in tandem. They set out
To both curate and cure fear.
Fixing Things captures this, thanks to Melinda Gebbie,
One of graphic art’s finest illustrators, Lost Girls’ Queen and John’s friend,
A return to her Californian roots creates a personal earthquake
As she witnesses the deterioration of once verdant grasses turned
Ever more brown, sealing ends. Higgs follows her cue to examine
The Dark Mountain project, a place for Ecologists who’ve turned sour
To depict and express growing fear. Higgs values their work
But calls for positive action. He is seeking the true means of progress,
And not the final cap on man’s years. He encounters Biologist
E.O.Wilson’s Half Earth, in which the planet is half returned
Back to nature. Whether this calls for partial Armageddon,
Or Malthus is something that John posits too.
A median must be reached in order to secure our salvation.
But the flux between generations has not allowed that sacred
Thread to pass through.
The need for new methods propels Higgs towards Daisy Campbell.
Chief strategist for the other, Immediatism’s her goal.
Turned onto it by her Dad, it calls for a means to resist mediation,
The binds that ensnare us and which keep us all in the fold.
Haken Bey wrote the book, even if the work incurs ‘issues’,
The plan he was seeking was an immediate response to all things.
The attainment of groups from spontaneous interaction,
Creating new plans and projects, ideas to make the heart sing.
Sadly the heart sang some songs that cannot be accepted,
But the basic impulse contains something that could lift us free
From those binds which have seen systems break; political, moral, social,
If he isn’t right, Bey moves closer as he starts to redirect current signs.
Brian Barritt said it best, in trying to define our lost systems,
His magical work and his writings were the positive acts Higgs has sought;
‘Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important,’
just as Higgs has here,
Are paths taken for us as he attempts to locate Huxley’s doors.
Higgs finds, opens them, allowing for the freeing flow
Of each moment. He is a Time Lord charting all
But who has remained in the present
And he knows that the future
Will be something to embrace,
David Erdos April 8th 2019