The ocean, the flood
When I think about the internet, I think about the ocean. Look down: no bottom. Look out: no end. It can swallow you up. Filled with beasts—a beast itself! Alive. But sick. Dying. Or, perhaps, transforming—into something. Something that could swallow us up for good. Our small city, surrounded by water.
The flood appears across many times and cultures. In these myths, the flood is a disaster, but also an opportunity for renewal. It represents the duality of destruction: painful, cleansing.
AI has powered the latest incarnations of this story: x-risk, AGI, mass unemployment, disinformation. Our other ‘flood’—a changing climate—may prove more literal. A world war also dances in the corners of our imagination’s vision.
Together, three floods. What comes after them?
The internet and AI appear distinct. But each begins where the other ends. The internet is the medium through which AI learns and acts. Meanwhile, AI increasingly mediates the internet’s core. The two are as one. We’ll need a governable internet if we’re to have governable AI, and vice versa.
The internet and war also appear distinct. Yet each is a cause and an effect of the other. The internet's structure is both the cause and the result of competition and cooperation between nations. The cause and result of political struggle on the ground.
What about the internet and the climate? Human effects on the climate arise from a more recent myth: that humans are separate from nature; that nature is something for humans to dominate. This myth makes degradation look like progress. It is as one with climate change and Chinese rivalries as it is with an internet designed to sell us things. (Advertising—where else would AI have cut its little teeth?).
Three floods? Or one flood with at least three faces?
This supposed ‘polycrisis’ is nothing of the sort. It is a singular crisis of political imagination, which is to say, of ethical and moral imagination. The fact that it appears as many crises is a testament to our improvised perception.
How can a world's people live?
Let a thousand answers to this question bloom. Only through such answers will there be a world to rebuild after the flood.