Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Is Science Fiction the greatest art form of all?

I wanted to watch the film, Ex Machina, but it wasn't playing in my hometown. So with a $10 BART train ride into downtown San Francisco, I was on my way to the Metreon to see the early bird showing. It was worth it. This is exactly why I left a high-paying corporate job: to be free to explore and ponder and ask cosmic questions that I yearn to know the answers to. Let's call it a SciFi Sabbatical before eventually getting sucked back into the daily chaos of artificial emergencies and deadlines that serve spreadsheets instead of people.

Ex Machina did the trick for me. The film is a modern day Pinocchio tale told through the lens of a SciFi master on par with Heinlein, Dick, Clarke, or Kubrick. I won't pretend to remember the name of the writer/director of Ex Machina, as that is not as important to me as how the film made me feel. It made me feel alive - and aware of my tiny place in the larger consciousness of the Universe. 

What I love about science fiction is how it demands that we think about our humanity and spirituality in ways that provoke and entertain our imaginations. This film, and others like it, spark something that can at times be numbed and lulled to sleep inside all of us: the audacity and intellect to ask "why?" What is the meaning of life? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Why do we suffer so much? Why are we at war with ourselves ... inside as much as out?

Ex Machina asked me to question the future of AI and whether God wants us to create conscious machines. In a future ruled by AI, will robots argue among themselves about the right to kill humans if it benefits them, in the same way we now argue about stem cell research, cloning, the right to die, and the right to live? And abortion? Is it possible that the extinction of humanity by its own designs is inevitable? Have we crossed the rubicon of artificial superiority - homoprogramma?

Will robots fight for the right to marry humans? Marry each other? Marry in multiples that include polygamous groups of humans and droids? What about sex with skin jobs, as Ex Machina suggests? Because isn't it always about sex for us flesh and blood humans?

I pondered all of this as the electrical synapses in my brain fired rapidly during the glorious techno-pop credits rolled in the blackness. As I exited the dark and glorious Metreon theatre to a glass and steel staircase, I saw hundreds of humans outside on the lawns of the Yerba Buena gardens. I wanted to join them in the warm sunshine outside. And so I did. I felt a bit like the film's AI protagonist, Ava, going outside to experience life among humans. In that moment, I hoped and prayed that the evolution of consciousness on Earth does not have to mean the extermination of people ... like a germ that has infected our little blue planet. 

I want a future where AI can help us get off this planet and out of this galaxy to find other life forms and places to live. I pray for us to search for the truth in a way that doesn't require us to divide and conquer and destroy ourselves. My hope is that God's grand design has room for a harmonious blend of human life, alien life, artificial life, and spiritual life beyond the dimensions we can observe. Why not?

I walked across the lawn and the street to the seemingly ancient St. Patrick's cathedral. I prayed for the future of humanity in the darkness and comfort of gothic designs and candle light. On the wooden pew that I chose there was a copy of today's SF Examiner with a giant headline that read: DIGITAL DEBATE

All I could do was smile. I looked up and thanked God for my own consciousness and for the beautiful art form of science fiction.


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