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TECHNOLOGY

Artificial Intelligence, Mindfulness, and The Movies

Mindfulness is the attempt to reinstate wisdom into the raging river of AI efficiency

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BY Tim Askew - 11 Jun 2018

Artificial Intelligence, Mindfulness, and The Movies

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Technology entrepreneur Mitchell Kapor famously said, "Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant."

Over the years I have frequently found solace and centering in forms of traditional mindfulness in my morning meditation, chanting, yoga, and daily exercise. I have also developed personal forms of mindfulness in ways that are not associated with structured spiritual discipline.

In fact, I have grown to look for opportunistic moments of mindfulness, not just the planned and formal. There are a number of such opportunities and venues. My favorite is simply going to the movies by myself.

Apparently I am not alone in this particular appreciation for aloneness and enforced stillness. There is a new subscription service called MoviePass which lets its 2.7 million members see one movie per day for $9.95 a month. While most of us don't have that kind of time, I have always found solace in the dark anonymity of the movie theater. It is an effective way to remove oneself from the distractive quotidian and it can, at moments, become a petrie dish of new thought and business creativity.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal on 6/5/18 titled "Seeing 'Solo' Solo: Movie Lovers Hit Theaters Alone", millennials are increasingly attending films alone. The WSJ quotes Chrisaldo Torrecampo, a psychiatric technician in Napa, California, who states, "From a nerdy point of view, 'Star Wars' is more like a religious thing to me. When I'm by myself, I can pay more attention and just be in my own zen state." Exactly. The uninterrupted peace of seeing films in movie emporiums is quite a different experience than seeing a film on Netflix or Hulu from your sofa.

I am not personally a fan of the mindless, booming, vapidity of most of this summer's crop of science fiction and super hero movies, but in some ways it doesn't matter what is playing on the screen. It is a radical break in daily habituation. As such, it has value in opening up new thought patterns and synapses.

I have a theory that a new generation of workers is beginning to be overwhelmed with a surfeit of too much information about everything. Something inside us is saying to slow down. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review (Matt Plummer & Jo Wilson-6/5/18) reports we consume five times more information every day now than we did in all of 1986. That is equivalent to 174 newspapers a day! The corporate e-learning space alone has grown nine times in the last 16 years. Say Plummer and Wilson, "One would think that this would translate into increased knowledge. Yet, unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Scores of average American adults on tests of general civic knowledge--the type of information you'd assume people would pick up from scanning through all this information--has remained almost constant for the last 80 years."

Creative respite can be gleaned from other forms of enforced stillness, as well--like being stuck in the dentist's chair for two hours or creeping along in a traffic jam. It doesn't have to be the movies. I just say use such opportunistic breaks as gifts from the universe--opportunities for self-centering, information sorting, and subconscious analysis.

If you get a chance, read Henry Kissinger's alarmist, but wonderful, essay in the June Atlantic Magazine, "How the Enlightenment ends." I can't do it justice today, but here are some snippets.

Says Kissinger, "[Internet] users are diverted from introspection; in truth many technologies use the internet to avoid the solitude they dread." Kissinger notes that the internet's purpose is to create knowledge through the accumulation and manipulation of ever expanding data, saying, "Human cognition loses its personal character. Individuals turn into data, and data becomes regnant."

Raw facts and information render intuitive wisdom irrelevant. To quote Kissinger again, "A growing percentage of human activity will, within a measurable time period, be driven by AI algorithms. But these algorithms, being mathematical interpretations of observed data, do not explain the underlying reality that produces them." If one were to get all philosophical and theological here, one could say that AI represents the triumph of the penultimate over the ultimate.

Mindfulness is the attempt to reinstate wisdom into the raging river of AI efficiency. I believe we humans must increasingly migrate to restorative experiences of mindfulness, not just in formal routines, but also in a new daily grasping for the unexpected numinous in the normative.

Traditional and untraditional mindfulness is humanity's attempt to catch up with the AI contraption we have erected. It is like an app to maintain meaning and our humanity.

Psychologist B. F. Skinner put our current AI conundrum this way: "The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do."

Thanks, B. F. Skinner.

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