We are both excited and frightened by this “beautiful and horrible monster” (and so we borrow the ancient words used by Giosuè Carducci) whose name is “Artificial Intelligence” and whose acronym “AI” plays on – making us read it as “I” in English – the title given this year by Tonalestate to its manifesto. Who are you, then, artificial intelligence, telling me about new and unexpected laws and realities? And who am I that I am shaping forging you? Fear and enthusiasm, hesitant and almost babbling as we were babbling, take each other by the hand and pause to wonder whether it is better to join the dance of those who praise this new daughter of humans, or whether it would be better to trust those who put up barriers to its development.
The enthusiasm is based on the vibrant and burning hopes that artificial intelligence generates: will we really stop dying and live an unlimited youth, having very good robots at our service? Will wars, misery, hunger, pain, injustice, slavery, borders and every limitation finally be removed? Will we never have to worry again that the works of our hands, as they blossom and bear fruit, may perhaps disturb the universe? Fear, on its part, relies on the wisdom that warns against crossing a line beyond which joy turns to weeping, since experience teaches us that the best is often the enemy of the good. And Montale’s verses perfectly indicate this mixture of fear and enthusiasm: there is the scent of new, which we wish to enter in order to examine and investigate, looking for that “thread to unravel” that will allow us to find some clarity, “when the day languishes most”but, as the verses chosen by the manifesto well suggest, our gaze is invited to go beyond appearances and our mind is urged to grasp and cherish connections and divergences, through a thinking freed not only from fantasies and illusions but also from a justified but undoubtedly paralyzing fear of being, soon, completely overwhelmed by our exploration. And let us not forget that this is something new to which, in truth, we have already become accustomed, thanks to the increasingly powerful computers, mobile
phones that we can no longer do without, cameras to which we always show where we are, what we are doing or saying, and those anonymous algorithms which we dialogue with, unsure whether to let them know or to let them guess what we like and what we need.
The questions opened up by artificial intelligence (a ‘quid’, it is true, still a little goofy and with only a partially painted surface) are endless, but the most urgent ones seem to be: what is it that drives man to create ‘another himself’, which performs the
same functions as him but more quickly, more efficiently and more precisely? Will this ‘other self’ make us all less intelligent, as some say, or will we be set free to focus on what we want or love? Will we all become incapable of memoring, since we will rely completely on machines? Will it be easier for those who will be called upon to govern us to have absolute power over us?
Will artificial intelligence be a drug that does not kill the body but the conscience, or will it be an instrument whose use is left to individual righteousness? And this artefact, born of our own hands, will be able to answer the most important question of our lives, the one that is asked, generation after generation, by every single person who is born: “Who am I?”. Hence the words of the subtitle – “are they like who make them?” – which lead us to the Psalm 114. And we see that the manifesto places a substantial question mark on the psalmist’s categorical assertion, thus daring to question him, while, reflecting on our present, it asks: is artificial intelligence really man’s child? And, if so, will we be able to educate it to give its life for a friend and to love its enemy (the two highest levels of human love)? Undoubtedly, there are at least two facts that call for very careful vigilance: artificial intelligence has long since changed the face of war, making it even more tragic and irresponsible, and it has, moreover, penetrated to the very core of man’s genetic structure. In the face of this invasion of two very important aspects of human life and coexistence, we do not want to and cannot forget that human time must always be the time of the ideal which is interwoven with positivity when man is capable of respect for himself and for others, and when his work is accurate, patient, gentle, loving, passionate, simple and intelligent, far-sighted but open to the unexpected, just as we saw Geppetto do with his Pinocchio: From the wood he carefully carved, an unexpected creature in fieri emerged, who went from being reckless, fearful and ungenerous to finally becoming a human being. And this gives us hope.
And this is exactly the kind of hope that Tonalestate invites us to have, in order to try to give some courageous answers to the questions posed by the invasion of artificial intelligence into our lives. And it asks us to do so with the peace that holds, concealed, the statue (sculpted over two thousand years before Christ and now in the Louvre Museum in Paris) of the steward Ebil-il, whose beauty the manifesto invites us to enjoy and at the same time suggests that we make our own its gentle spirit, devoid of austerity but full of strength. This Mesopotamian king (or official) is praying and, in his motionless whiteness, he shows us with what innocent and perceptive intelligence we should intervene in the new world that has reached us. A current reality on which intellectuals, scientists, philosophers, artists and all the friends of Tonalestate will help us to reflect and dialogue, with honesty, commitment and responsibility. The Tonalestate friends will be meeting, from mid-July onwards in virtual links, under the watchful and no longer motionless gaze of the beautiful Alps rising between Trento and Brescia, at the Tonale Pass in Italy.