Resistance Is Futile, But Maybe Not With AI

The novelist Neal Stephenson’s prophetic power never ceases to astonish. The Diamond Age (1995), is set in a technologically highly advanced world, with ubiquitous nanotechnology in addition to something strangely familiar called “P.I.” The abbreviation is explained in the following exchange:

“I'm an engineer … Did some work on this project, as it happens.”

“What sort of work?”

“Oh, P.I. stuff mostly,” Hackworth said. Supposedly Finkle-McGraw still kept up with things and would recognize the abbreviation for pseudo-intelligence, and perhaps even appreciate that Hackworth had made this assumption.

Finkle-McGraw brightened a bit. “You know, when I was a lad they called it A.I. Artificial intelligence.”

Hackworth allowed himself a tight, narrow, and brief smile. “Well, there's something to be said for cheekiness, I suppose.”

Yet, for all their technological sophistication, these two men are “neo-Victorians.” They have chosen to embrace 19th-century manners and fashions partly as a defense against the collapse of state power and the fragmentation of nations into “phyles,” i.e., tribes.

There is an important warning here for everyone giddy with the recent advances of generative AI. Breathtaking developments in the realm of technology do not render history obsolete. It lives on alongside the latest gadgetry, because the present is not where history ends and the future begins; it is where the past and the future fuse.