Thursday, January 28, 2010

Painting the Future

A paint-focussed sister, indeed a sister who long ago handed her ten-year-old brother (or was I eleven? or am I misremembering altogether?) a copy of Clarke's Tales from the White Hart, adds a comment to my paint-focussed previous post:

When we were children we devoured science fiction. Among the many books or stories that we read there was one about one's social obligation to use things, so that people could go on making things. I suppose that the painters who are displaced by robots could find meaningful employ assembling robots but I suspect that in your world the robots are self replicating.¿Que no?

Indeed there were some like that; I'm vaguely remembering a guy who is born to a middle-class family meaning that he has to consume rather heavily, but invents or adapts robots to do the consumption which is a crime until he shows that the adaptation involves getting the robots to enjoy consumption in a controllable way, so he gets to be a hero and live in a sparsely-furnished apartment...something like that. I took this as ironic let's-invert-everything rather than serious world-building; Clarke himself commented somewhere that in a wealthy world (long before "post-Singularitarian" was a phrase) people would do art, science, literature, mathematics... I think he left out sports. I really don't think there's a problem here: for a couple of centuries we have developed an ethos of job-identity, which has been key to making the Industrial Revolution work, but humans of a few hundred centuries back had nothing of the kind and I don't believe humans of a century hence will either. We'll have better things to do.

Of course, we're not nearly smart enough to appreciate most of the math and science that have yet to be invented, or even much of what has been, but we can take care of that. As Charlie Kam's fairly famous song, I Am The Very Model of a Singularitarian, puts it (about 50 seconds in), we'll expand our mental faculties by merging with technology. Consider a few of the links here.

Or just think about the past, when we first encountered the future, in the school of, well, José Azueta:

José Azueta, hero of the act of April 21, 1914 in the Port of Veracruz, who, together with a handful of men from the town and students of the Heroic Military Naval Academy, defended the national dignity and sovereignty with his blood, was the son of Commodore Manuel Azueta Perillos and Josefa Abad. He was born in the Port of Acapulco, Gro. on May 2, 1895. When his father was sent to the port of Veracruz due to the service, the family established its residence in that site of the gulf. José studied his elementary instruction in the Municipal School of Veracruz, José Miguel Macías, where he had a very good behavior, a distinguished performance and a notorious learning in all his courses.
He had a notorious learning in all his courses. I tried (and I remember being rather unhappy when Dad explained that the Mexican-War history I was getting in Mexican public school was probably less slanted than the version in Calvert Correspondence school), but I don't think I managed notorious learning in Mexican elementary school. Maybe you did.

The past was very interesting, but if we can survive a reasonable ways into the future, I expect to like it better.

Or then again, maybe not.

Update: perhaps I should have mentioned that I recently got your elder niece to read Tales from the White Hart -- as a neuroscience graduate student, she ought to be familiar with his 1950's insights into what she's trying to do now. And just a moment ago, your younger niece went off to the orthodontist (missing school for the appointment) and I noticed that she was taking a copy of The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.

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