Big Worries? Chunk Down.


artificial intelligence spirituality

Everybody’s worried about A.I., Artificial Intelligence. Computers are already beating us at picking stocks and diagnosing cancer. There are already speech programs that can detect sarcasm, and algorithms are writing music, painting canvasses and telling jokes. We’re all worried that the “Robocalypse” will steal more than 800 million jobs in the next decade.

But the real fear is—what if we create a mind that grows so powerful it slips out of our control? Like Hal, the deadpan computer who seizes the spaceship in “2001.” Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk warns that A.I. is a greater threat than nuclear weapons, and the late Stephen Hawking cautioned that it could be the best thing we ever do, or the worst.

Myself, I think the Frankensteinian anxiety is a giant projection.

If the universal affliction of our day is “monkey mind”—the inability to control our racing, crazy minds—it makes sense that our simian brains would create a doomsday scenario in which the Ultimate Mind gets way, way out of control. In other words, our anxiety about Hal is a global projection of our own little monkey, swinging from one thought to another, as from the branches of an endless tree, slaloming into dystopia.

“I’ve seen a heap of trouble in my life,” said Mark Twain, “and most of it never came to pass.” We humans like to worry about enormous, hypothetical problems that are clearly beyond our control, because we don’t want to deal with the very plain issues that are right in front of us and very much within our control.

Rather than railing about Google’s A.I wizard machine, DeepMind, it’s better just to attend to your own mind. Anyone who’s ever tried to meditate knows how hard it is to shut down the geyser spewing 50,000 thoughts a day (most of them repeats of repeats). The goal of meditation is to empty the mind of all our petty thoughts, at least as best we can, so that we are open to receive the indwelling presence of God. St. Paul urged his readers to release their human, constrained minds so that they could put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). It is quite simply a mind swap! God’s promise is that if we will empty our monkey mind, the mind of Christ will slip in to take its place. Then, for as long as the monkeys are at bay, we have peace and confidence, joy and wisdom.

The best response to the really big problems that haunt our minds is always to chunk down. Be quiet for a time. Am I really worried about North Korea, or is it my perilous job situation? The tension in my marriage? If we can name the real anxiety in our lives, we can give it to God. Our agita can drop. God can begin to change our lives. And we can become, in fact, the calm and centered people who might just know exactly what to do about A.I.

6 Responses to Big Worries? Chunk Down.
  1. Frank Johnson
    May 17, 2018 | 4:09 pm

    I believe there is a real social problem for us to solve. Already there are robots replacing law clerks in reviewing contracts and documents and doing a better and faster job. you are right that many wil be looking for new vocations in ten years and where does that leave current college graduates. I see it as a social opportunity or crisis and we have not done a good job with the past ones

  2. Michael
    May 19, 2018 | 12:38 am

    Great piece David. I was just writing about this myself a few days ago. I call them Ghost Emotions.

    Ghost emotions are feelings that float around in my head. They have power to disturb me and disturb my sleep precisely because they are immaterial, airy. I can’t hold them or see them and therefore they seem omnipresent. In business we say, If you can’t name it, you can’t manage it. And that’s certainly true of emotions. Because they are immaterial they are unmanageable.

    But when I write them down, their power diminishes. On paper, in black and white, they are finite. Jesus cast out demons by requiring a name. And Rumpelstiltskin—the secret of his power was a secret name. So naming my feelings transfers their power to me.

    • David Anderson
      May 19, 2018 | 9:57 am

      So true. That’s why journaling is such a wonderful spiritual practice. When we write down our thoughts and feelings, they become literally manageable–on paper. And as you say, the baseless things seem less worrisome.

  3. Ann Koberna
    May 19, 2018 | 9:30 am

    As often happens with your writing a truth stood out. As a result,
    I texted 11 people this message:
    If we can name the real anxiety in our lives, we can give it to God. Our agita can drop. God can begin to change our lives.
    David Anderson
    They each responded with gratitude for feeling as redirected as I do.
    Thank you!

    • David Anderson
      May 19, 2018 | 9:59 am

      That’s great–you’re turning to help 11 others–which is the best way to help ourselves, as we know.

  4. Frank Johnson
    May 20, 2018 | 3:23 pm

    Worry is something you do when you are neither part of the problem or part of the solution. A.I. is a real economic problem and also opportunity. That is why so many corporations are spending so much money on it. I have talked to my two older grand daughters about it so that they are aware of its implications. This is what I can do,

Leave a Reply