Which Once You Took For Exercise Of Virtue

What Eliot describes in Little Gidding as “the rending pain of re-enactment” becomes linearly worse with age. Firstly because, as the short-term memory goes, the long-term memory notoriously improves, and secondly because for each new day, “the shame of motives late revealed and the awareness of things ill done” acquires new material to feed on. To believe that you will one day become old and wise enough not to commit acts, the shame of which will subsequently keep you awake at night, is simply an illusion.

Velle non discitur; your basic character does not change, and if you are a dork who does not know how to model social interactions at twenty, or a selfish jerk who does not care how he hurts others, you will in all probability be exactly the same at seventy, or even worse. In the words of the concise Jewish expression, “Wherever you go, your tuchas goes with you.” If the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your seventy-first year is in fact smaller than the number of times you embarrass yourself or betray others in your twenty-first year, this will be solely because you have fewer social interactions to make a mess of, many of your former victims being either already alienated or dead as mackerel.

There are only two remedies for this gift reserved for old age: firstly, to believe that seniority is virtuous by definition and that everything you now do is therefore right and proper, a self-conceit that can leak backwards in time until you come to believe that you were a moral paragon in your youth as well; aging does not give people a better character, merely the conceited delusion of having a better character. This delusion is embraced by perhaps the majority of middle-aged people. The second remedy is death. Unfortunately these remedies tend to occur in that order; whereas it would be so much better if we all died before combining all our other vices with senile self-satisfaction.

Sour old braggarts insist that they are superior in wisdom to young people. Well, they are simply wrong. If human beings are very, very complex algorithms, then the typical old person is a highly simplified and limited algorithm; its behaviour now consists of little else than the same dozen lines of dialogue, or rather monologue, mostly intended to insult, irritate or at least bore the surroundings. I am astonished to find novels containing intelligent, scientifically literate and tolerant parents and other old people, because I never met any myself. I know I would have remembered meeting someone over 50 who was not devoted to ignorance, superstition and bigotry.

The reason why algorithm-based artificial intelligence has never worked is because people were trying to build a computer that acted like a young, healthy, rational human being. They ought instead have built a machine that passed the Turing Test by emulating the average querulous pensioner on the bus, weary, whiny and hung-up on trivia. You could probably use a computer from the Eighties, programmed in Basic.

Posted on October 18, 2017 at 21:27 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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