Opinion | Sex Bots, Religion and the Wild World of A.I.

Recevez des mises à jour en temps réel directement sur votre appareil, abonnez-vous maintenant.

[THEME MUSIC]

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway.

kara swisher

Im Kara Swisher, and youre listening to Sway. My guest today is Jeanette Winterson, the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Frankissstein. Her latest book, 12 Bytes, is a series of essays that imagines a future where artificial intelligence is smart enough to live alongside humans.

She explores how that would change the way we learn, communicate, have relationships, have sex, and even how we think about death. So far, IRL, the shiny digital future hasnt turned out that well, at all, especially with tech bros like Zuck and company in the drivers seat. But Winterson has a sunnier view of the possibilities. I dont.

So I wanted to ask her why that is and what needs to happen to make sure we end up with an A.I. that doesnt destroy us.

Jeanette Winterson, welcome to Sway.

jeanette winterson

Its great to be here, even though were still in this virtual two-dimensional world of the blended reality that COVID has thrust upon us.

kara swisher

Or maybe its an opportunity.

jeanette winterson

Maybe its an opportunity.

kara swisher

So your new book out is called 12 Bytes. Theres a lot in here, from Frankenstein to vampires, to Buddhism, to sex dolls and cryogenics. But as one reviewer put it probably the most negative review you got Why should we care what Jeanette Winterson has to say about artificial intelligence? So tell us. Tell us why that is.

jeanette winterson

You know, Ive been working on the work that I do for nearly 40 years, and Ive got a platform. And I think its my responsibility to talk about the big issues of the day, whether thats climate breakdown, whether its social inequality, whether its the coming world of A.I. And for me, thats my responsibility, and I hope that there will be folks out there who think, yeah, weve been on the journey with her a few times around the block, well see what shes got to say now.

And I hope therell be other folks wholl say, well, most books about A.I. books about tech are quite narrow-goal. And this is a book where I wanted to multitask, because I wanted to bring in ideas about philosophy, religion, politics, and history, our past from the Industrial Revolution, which is the moment when life starts to accelerate.

This is how we got here now. So this came from a really straightforward premise in my head after writing my novel, Frankissstein. I need to explore this further. So how can I do that?

kara swisher

Right. And let me start with one thing that you just said. First, Id love you to talk about the link between Frankissstein and this book, because a lot of the issues are the nonfiction version of things that you brought up there, including creating something out of nothing and this idea of not needing the body any longer.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, I wrote Frankissstein, really, in a response to Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, which turned out to be a message in a bottle, a prophetic vision. She imagined a time when humans would create an alternative life form. And hers was out of the discarded body parts of the graveyard. Ours is out of the zeros and ones of code.

But she had this astonishing insight that it would depend on electricity, which was not a force used in application. And the Industrial Revolution was about coal and steam, you know. Everything was heavy.

And our future, if its going to be sustainable, will be about creating sustainable electricity, which is the only power source that A.I. and its successor A.G.I., Artificial General Intelligence, will need. Look, its not going to eat. Its not going to sleep. Its not going to need bank accounts and yachts.

Our values are not going to be the values of what were creating. Once artificial intelligence ceases to be a tool, if it does, and becomes a player in the game, something alongside us, then Homo sapiens is no longer top of the tree. Were going to have to revisit our own exceptionalism. And that seemed to me

kara swisher

Which was the idea behind Frankissstein, right? The idea that they were trying to create a better human being, but of course it got out of control.

jeanette winterson

It got out of control. It always does with humans. We always manage to mess it up. And it may be that being chimpanzees with big brains has got as far as it can go.

You know, Im hoping that this is a moment when Homo sapiens, which has been around for about 300,000 years on planet Earth, will evolve, first into the transhuman, and then into the posthuman. I dont have a moral or ethical problem with that. I am sure that we cant continue as we are.

kara swisher

Right. But talk a little bit of that concept, because you talk about it in the book several times this idea of life continuing beyond the body, which is something you and I talked about with Frankissstein.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, and obviously, anybody whos religious is interested in that idea. The question is, is consciousness obliged to materiality? Humans are embodied. Thats all we know.

You dont get a human without a body. But sometimes our bodies are distorted or difficult. Lots of people hate their bodies. People have always hoped that something else, something essential survives the death of the physical body.

Science has always said, no, this is not true. This is magical thinking. Get over it. But now, science and religion have started to say the same things, that actually, yes, maybe consciousness is not obliged to materiality.

Maybe we could upload our brains. Maybe we could live much longer lives if we were blended, if we were transhuman. Maybe physical death at 80 or 90 is not necessary.

So were revising what it means to be a human being, and we dont know where the limits of that are yet. But we do know that the idea that its not here, were not bound in our bodies, were not just confined to this planet, is now something which is the hot property of A.I. and where it might take us.

Now, if we were not subject to the present constraints of the body and most of us have doubled our lifespan since, really, the early 1900s people are living much longer. If we could do that again and again and again, we would have a different relationship to the biological body. But then, we might leave it behind altogether.

kara swisher

So its somewhat useless for

jeanette winterson

Yeah.

kara swisher

Eventually.

jeanette winterson

I think, eventually, yes. And that is the question. Every culture across time since recorded history the Epic of Gilgamesh, its that familiar story we all know. A guy has lost his best friend. What is death? What happens after we disappear? Is there how can we bring back those we love?

Its that story, which we know so well, and its always the one thats troubled us. If now, science is not at odds with that story, if technology is saying that story could be real, then maybe we did always know, and that fascinates me.

kara swisher

So this idea the first step is obviously transhumanism how the body dies, the mind continues with a digital brain and possibly a cyborg concept, which is the singularity. I mean, Ive heard it a zillion times in Silicon Valley. And youve talked about the human form as only provisional.

jeanette winterson

Yes.

kara swisher

So thats the first step. Presumably, the second step is just a digital brain. Is there always a body? Is there always a form?

jeanette winterson

No, I dont think there need be. I mean, just as with A.I. at the moment, weve got embodied, which is robotics, and non-embodied, which is operating systems. So it could be, with any future evolution of Homo sapiens or whatever mixed media Homo sapiens looks like that if you want a body of some shape or form, you can have one.

And if you dont, if you want to be consciousness spirit, it would have been called at certain times then you can. And we see this not just in religions but in all sorts of legends and cultures, the idea that the shaman or the magician can leave the body and enter another form, and then return to the previous form, or visit the astral world. All this is very common. And thats why I wonder, is it so common because actually, it was always an intuition about where we would end up or what was likely for us?

kara swisher

Do you have a preference? Do you prefer being a robot or just floating around your brain floating around in some fashion?

jeanette winterson

Do you know what Id like? If it was really all possible, there were no limits or boundaries, I would like to do both. I would like to be able to enter a physical self sometimes.

kara swisher

A human body. Like a human body, not a robot.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, but not necessarily a biological body.

kara swisher

Oh, all right. So, what?

jeanette winterson

It doesnt have to be a biological body. Its like Iron Man, so well have a stronger arm, we can run faster. So those are possibilities to extend what we are, so it might be.

You know, if Im trapped in your computer, which is a bit of a genie-in-the-bottle story, and youre really not letting me out, but eventually you say, O.K., Jeanette, you can come out, have a body, what will I choose? I dont know.

But I like the idea that my consciousness could continue. But then of course I do, because I was brought up in a strict religious household. So deep inside me is a comfort with the idea that, no, this is not the end.

kara swisher

You do sound like a lot of venture capitalists I hang out with in San Francisco in many ways or different or Elon Musk, or someone like that. So thats Im going to get back to that in a minute. But let me read to you from yourself.

Its all a fiction until its a fact, the dream of flying, the dream of space travel, the dream of speaking to someone instantly across time and space, the dream of not dying or of returning, the dream of life forms not human but alongside the human. Is this your conception of innovation, I guess? Innovation of humanity itself?

jeanette winterson

Id like to think that this is not the last word. I hope that we are evolving. You know, weve started to understand that process, once you get away from the idea of a god-given, fully complete, flat-back human that just appears.

If we are evolving, then we should be able to move beyond this point, I think. And blending with our technology seems like a good idea. Look, we know that Elon Musk, with his Neuralink company, is already developing implants to go in the brain, whereby paraplegic or paralyzed persons can communicate directly with their device.

But we know its not going to end there. The idea is that you, me, and everybody we know will be able to connect directly with the internet, the internet of things. Well be able to ask a question in our head. We wont have to Google it, look it up on the phone. The answer will come back. Larry Page at Google has talked about that. And of course, this revolving door will mean there is no privacy, because if all your thoughts can be overheard, then whats left for autonomy or privacy in the sense that we have always known it?

But young people I talk to say, are you crazy? They know everything about you anyway. You just imagine that youre private now. Youre not. That may be true.

kara swisher

Yes, although I do think that many people still shudder at the thought of artificial general intelligence, which you were talking about, which is the next superintelligence, essentially. You know, and all these movies are dystopian when youre looking at these things. Do you have a shudder in there?

Because you are enthusiastic. I mean, I have a future that is a little less pretty, and we can talk about the present and what has happened now. But where comes your sunny toward this?

jeanette winterson

Look, Im an optimist by temperament. If we continually focused on a kind of Armageddon, doom-laden, dystopian future as now, with climate breakdown thats where were going. Weve got to be realistic. But we also have to be optimistic and hope that we can use all our ingenuity, plus the ingenuity of the tools were creating, to get us into a better place than we are now.

Thats what I would like to see, and there is no reason to remake A.I. in our image. It isnt born with a gender or a biological sex because it isnt a biological entity. No, it doesnt have a faith. It isnt going to start a religious war. Its not got a skin color.

All of the things that weve fought about over the whole course of humanity need not be present in the technology we are creating. The future is not a force-like gravity. Its propositional. We make it up as we go along.

Society is propositional. Nothing is fixed. We can change it, unless and this is the big one thing. If we tip the planet over, then were not going to be able to change anything. Theres going to be no artificial

kara swisher

Right, environmentally

jeanette winterson

Yeah general intelligence. Its going to be nothing except fighting for a few scarce resources and trying to stay above the water level and not scorch ourselves to death. Theres no future if that happens. So I am completely realistic about that.

kara swisher

Well, if we dont have bodies, there could be, you know.

jeanette winterson

We will get there, though. Because time is short, you know. Were a little bit further away from that moment where we could just zoom off. You know, I think this is why the big guys are developing their space rockets, isnt it?

kara swisher

Yes, they are theyre trying to get the hell out of here. Yes.

jeanette winterson

Theyre trying to get the hell out of here, yeah. Like that movie. Whats it called? Elysium

kara swisher

Yes, Elysium, yes.

jeanette winterson

where theyre all living up there, yeah. So we dont want to do that.

kara swisher

Right. Let me just say, you pin a lot of hope on A.I. and a better future. I am of a belief that A.I. is us. Crap in, crap out. Youre more crap in, better world out. So lets debate that. Because one of the things you wrote connectivity is what computing revolution has offered us. Absolutely true. And if we could get it right, we end the delusion of separate silos of value and existence, we might end our anxiety about intelligence. Here we have the Facebook Papers everywhere, and a lot of internal proof that there are some bumps along the road to perfection in technology.

jeanette winterson

I should say so, yeah. Look, I dont have a Facebook account. I never have had. Because from the moment it came, I thought, this is like living in a Soviet tower block, where youre encouraged to spy on your neighbor and hand over the dossier, and somebodys quietly getting the data together. Its just the capitalist version.

So that has never been for me, and I have very serious doubts about its utility in the world certainly, its beneficial status in the world. Does it have one? I dont know. But social media isnt tech. Its not just where were going. Thats not everything, and we shouldnt just focus on that. And yeah, youre right. Garbage in, garbage out. We know that all computers are trained on data sets. And if the data sets are flawed, which at present, they always are, then what we get is an amplification of bias or prejudice.

But in a strange way, its forced us to look at our own bias. Even people who thought, Im not biased were plugging those data sets into the machines and looking at what came out and thinking, I am biased. And that has really shown us something. Its shown us that the most frightening ideologies are the hidden ideologies.

kara swisher

So not be scared of that although sometimes Id like to see some of it go away again and hide.

jeanette winterson

Id like to see some of it go away.

kara swisher

Sort of like cicadas. Something like

jeanette winterson

I know.

kara swisher

17 years it would be nice, if youd all go away for a minute. I just interviewed Maria Ressa, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize. And one of the she was quoting E.O. Wilson. We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology, which she thought was a problem. How do you react to that concept of hers?

jeanette winterson

Of course. And its absolutely right. We have moved too fast for our emotional intelligence. And thats partly why I wrote the book, because I knew that more people need to be involved in this conversation, that it shouldnt just be left to the rich guys.

Its not even government anymore, because this is not being run by any elected democratic institutions, is it? Its being run by rich guys with a lot of power, and we cant depend on their benevolence. I mean, most of the time, I dont think theyre evil. I think theyre just overwhelmed with their own capacity, and they truly believe they have a vision of how the world should be.

I dont think Facebook started out to be evil. I just think the whole thing could not work in the control of somebody like Zuckerberg, whos got nothing in his history that suggests he can manage billions of people on the planet using his social media.

kara swisher

Right, absolutely. So in that vein, one of the things that was interesting someone who does a lot of thinking of this is Elon Musk, obviously. Not just Neuralink, but all kinds of things, with space travel.

Hes the one who is particularly scared of A.I. Hes told me this. A.I. does not need to hate us to destroy us. And he compared A.I. and humanity to, were in an anthill, and theyre building highways.

And when we run over an anthill, we dont think that were being evil, that wed kill the entire ant colony when were building a highway. And thats how I look at A.I. to humanity.

jeanette winterson

Yeah. I dont think we should imagine that this thing, if it gains any self-reflection, any self-awareness, has to behave exactly like we do. Most of what humans do is run by emotions usually, negative emotions, usually, fear of some kind either fear of needing more money, needing more power, needing more land, needing more people.

A.I. is not going to be motivated in the same way. So I think the indifference question is more likely. What are these human creatures that are just causing so much trouble?

But as the scientific community is split. There are those who say, no, A.I. will stay as a tool, a powerful tool, but it will never develop what we would call intelligence, certainly not consciousness. And I think its pretty much split down the line of which way its going to go.

kara swisher

You keep talking about not needing the body. So what would that be?

jeanette winterson

It would be consciousness. You know what its like? Even now, because of the way technology is advanced, many people dont use their bodies at all in the real world.

They use cars and planes to transport their brains around. They lie their bodies down and watch the TV. They sit in front of their laptop.

I mean, everybody you know, when Im sitting down, thinking or writing, my body is there, but Im not conscious of it. I dont think anyone is. Youre in your thoughts. Youre in your imagination.

Our bodies were designed to do stuff, and we dont really do stuff with them anymore. So you have the ludicrousness of gyms

kara swisher

Ludicrousness of gyms? [CHUCKLES]

jeanette winterson

Well, it is ludicrous, isnt it? I mean, the bodies that were designed to work are now part of the work we have to do in order to stay fit and healthy. That would have seemed crazy to our grandparents, that this is how we have to stay fit. So what exactly is the use of being embodied, I wonder?

kara swisher

Right. So how will A.G.I. change our concept of the afterlife? You mentioned this a lot. Like, weve talked about Silicon Valleys obsession with immortality.

Microsoft filed a patent to build chatbots of people, dead are alive, using their social media data. This was an episode of Black Mirror, by the way, which seems to anticipate everything. Do you think a chatbot could help with someones grief, for example?

jeanette winterson

Yes and no. It depends what you think grief is. And that in itself may change. I think, for the human condition, grief is something which must be felt. It takes time.

It always used to be two years. In the 19th century, people used to wear black for two years to say to people, Im a little bit vulnerable, go easy with me. I think that was actually quite a good idea.

Now, youre supposed to suddenly get over it in 12 weeks or you need to go to the doctor. Thats crazy. But is grief something that we should feel, mourn, understand, express, and then gradually move back into life without that person? I think it probably is.

In a way, if you think of consciousness as a pattern, at death, what happens is the pattern disappears. And on the other side of the pattern are the people that you made patterns with. And thats why its so awkward for them, because their pattern-making is smashed up.

And you have to learn to make a new pattern, I think. And so it would be better to go through the grieving process and not use an app that replicates the dead person. It might help for a little while, you know, like sometimes.

kara swisher

But what if it was the dead person, not the app?

jeanette winterson

If it was the dead person, that would be different. Because if you mean, weve uploaded the consciousness of this person and theyre still around, that will be the beginning of some very different kinds of relationships between embodied and non-embodied entities.

kara swisher

Well, chasing immortality is about as close to playing god as it gets, right? And you wrote, quote, What are we doing? In effect, we are creating a god figure, much smarter than we are, non-material, not subject to our frailties, who we hope will have answers. But then, those answers are our own, correct?

jeanette winterson

Not necessarily. John McCarthy invented the term, artificial intelligence, back in 1956. I mean, I prefer to call it alternative intelligence, if we get there. I mean, I do want to be clear that at the moment, I know its a tool. Its a brilliant tool, with Googles DeepMind just solving the problem of protein folds last year.

So there are wonderful breakthroughs that are happening in the collaboration between humans and their smartest tool, which is A.I. But thats all it is. But if it develops beyond being a tool, thats the point where these questions become interesting.

And look, Im not a computing scientist, Im not a physicist, Im not a mathematician. But I am sure the questions of how we develop the future should not just be left to people who are computing scientists, mathematicians, physicists, Silicon Valley guys, mostly because they are guys, and theres a lot of white dudes in there. And we do need a more diverse base if were going to go forward. And thats why I wanted to open the conversation a little bit.

kara swisher

Well, you actually opened it with Ada Lovelace, the English mathematician and writer, and Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. And its notable these are two vanguard women in a field that today is largely dominated by men. It was interesting that you started with them.

And one of the lines I liked was, poor Ada, told to study maths to avoid going poetically mad, then told she was at risk of going mathematically mad. Can you talk about why you picked those two?

jeanette winterson

Those women were at the start of the future. You know, the Industrial Revolution, at the moment when repetitive work becomes mechanized, which was a great breakthrough, theres Mary Shelley, writing about, in 200 years later, this idea of a far future that we couldnt see at the time. And theres Ada Lovelace, who was actually just born when Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein.

Lord Byron was on that holiday on Lake Geneva in 1816. His estranged wife had just had a baby, called Ada. He would never see her. He didnt want Ada to have anything to do with poetry.

It was a bit rich from Britains most famous poet, mad, bad, and dangerous to know. So he gave instructions that Ada should be kept away from poetry, and her mother thought, what am I supposed to do? So she hired a maths tutor for her.

And from there, we know the story, that Ada, as she became Countess of Lovelace, got involved with Charles Babbage, the person who tried to design the worlds first mechanical computer, and she worked out that she could program it. She was highly sophisticated mathematically. And you read some of her things, and they are so far-sighted in terms of what she could imagine, just as what Mary Shelley could imagine.

And it was Alan Turing in 1950 who argued with Ada, Ada writing 100 years ago in 1950. Alan Turing writes a paper with a section in there called Lady Lovelaces Objection, where he sits down and reads the dead Ada that nobodys taking any notice of anymore because shes a woman, and he says, was she right? And what hes asking is, was she right about computing technology being able to originate anything, to be able, really, to think for itself?

kara swisher

Right. Just to be clear, Ada Lovelace thought computers and machines would not be able to originate intelligence.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, and thats why he devised the Turing test, because he decided that Ada was not right. And as far as we know, nothing has passed it yet, the moment when we will simply not be able to distinguish between what is A.I. and what is human intelligence. But it fascinates me that Turing, a gay man, also an outsider

kara swisher

Right, two women and a gay man were at the forefront of these thinking.

jeanette winterson

Yes. Yeah, because they were able to think outside.

kara swisher

Right.

jeanette winterson

And he was really the first person, for more than 100 years, to dust down Ada and have a look at what she actually said and realize how far-sighted she was. Because theres a distorted history around computing technology, that women werent involved. Quite simply, its a lie. They were.

kara swisher

They were very early involved. So one of the things that its shifted to is why it then got taken over by men. And one of the things you write about a lot is sex, and you write a lot about health robots, which are robots that can help with a bunch of different tasks, versus A.I. sex dolls, which are, I guess, specialized. You paint sex dolls as an enemy of progress, and you like helper bots. So talk a little bit about this, because its a very man-like thing to create sex bots.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, it would appear so. I mean, in theory, theres no difference, is there, with the platform between helper bots and sex bots. Its just embodied technology that you can use around the house to help your kids with the schooling, help your grandma with dementia to get through the day. Because a bot doesnt care if she says the same thing 500 times. You know, theres something rather touching about that.

Bots will learn your memories and will respond. So Im keen on it. And you know, anybody whos ever had a relationship with their Teddy bear, which is all of us, will have a relationship with a little bot that comes and chats to you. How can we not? Humans form relationships. We cant help it.

So I have no worries about that. Sex bots, I do have worries about, because it looks like a futuristic technology and a doll that talks to you and learns about your needs. But its bolted on to a very old-fashioned platform, and that is about gender, money, and power. Its the usual stuff.

And its men who seem to want a kind of female act I dont really know how else to describe it who will be a 1950s Stepford Wives style thing. She cant go out of the home. Shes always pleased to see you. She never gets old. She never gets fat. She never has a period. Shes never going to eat the face off you when youre late. Shes always ready for sex. She always comes when you do.

And we do wonder, if men have these dolls, how would they then manage in the real world with relationships with women who might be their boss, who might be their co-worker, who might be their client? What does it mean if youre always coming home to this ever-ready female act that you have chosen over a human relationship? So I find that as a concept much more problematic than, say, a little iPal or a helper whos about the house, doing things for you.

kara swisher

Well be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. Youll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Dave Eggers, and youll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Jeanette Winterson after the break.

So one of the things you talk about this idea of moving beyond the body, which youve talked about a lot again in Frankissstein and elsewhere, which is tech-optimistic, I would call it. Did the pandemic influence that optimism at all? Like, everyone obviously relied on it. It didnt break, it worked, we needed it, et cetera. Because the pandemic obviously impacts the body, very clearly.

jeanette winterson

It does impact the body. I mean, I live in the countryside, and Im a writer, so Im used to isolation. So I didnt miss any of the things that cities are good at that they became absolutely bad at when the pandemic happened. So I think I was better placed to manage it.

What I didnt like, and I soon stopped, were the Zoom interactions with people I knew and loved. I found those dispiriting and disorienting. And you know, in China, theres a group of people who call themselves two-dimensional, because they say that their significant life at work and at leisure is on the screen, and that their body, in fact, doesnt matter at all and theyre not interested in it.

And many of them do have avatar personalities as well, because they think its the multiplicity of the mind, which is where the interest is. I cant do that, even though Im an enthusiast for moving beyond the body. As long as Ive got what Ive got, Im living in it, and Im looking after it. But I am prepared for and interested in a time when that might not be the case.

kara swisher

What about cryogenics? Arent you considering that idea?

jeanette winterson

No, Im not considering that. Im really not interested. If my time is up on planet Earth, if there isnt a bridge to a bridge, if I dont get there, then Im fine to be out of here.

No, Im not scared of dying. Im not worried if there is anything beyond this, even though I was brought up religiously. I truly dont care about that. When Im gone, Im gone.

But if there is a chance to do something else, then Ill do it. But I do not want to have my head frozen in alcohol with the hope that I can be brought back and have a body replaced later. No, Ill accept my fate, and Ill go.

You know, Im also interested in those Silicon Valley startups that say we will find a way of uploading your consciousness, but we know were a long, long way off that. On the other hand, 70 years ago, we couldnt transplant a heart, and now we do many every day. Weve moved so fast, we really have, from what was possible.

kara swisher

Well, you know, I always think everything weve imagined in movies is actually going to happen, if you look back. You know, Jules Verne, et cetera its all

jeanette winterson

I think youre right. I think youre right.

kara swisher

So one of the things that worries me, though, is the people monitoring this, the people who are responsible for this, I find less than stable, I would say. And its a nice way of saying I think theyre really screwed up quite a bit. So weve talked about big tech responsibility to our society.

I want your thoughts on the revelations of things Facebook happens to be in the news. But its part of a lot more scrutiny over allegations, for example, that they knowingly put growth and profit over user safety when it came to the US presidential election, and across the globe, actually. Instagrams effects on teens, these issues around India it goes on. And obviously, right now, the whistleblower for Facebook who delivered a lot of these documents is speaking in Britain. Have you been paying attention to it?

jeanette winterson

Im very much thinking about whats happening here. You know, I think it goes back to something more fundamental than big tech. Its about regulation. And thats why I start, in 12 Bytes, with the stories around the Industrial Revolution, which is where unbridled capitalism really kicks off.

And its also the moment in Manchester, my hometown, where youve got Karl Marx and Frederick Engels walking around. Why do they write the Communist Manifesto? Why does Marx do that then? Not because hes a crazy commie, but because these are men who say, as Engels did, this is what happens when men are regarded only as useful objects.

And they looked at the misery, the squalor. Life expectancy was 30 years in the early Industrial Revolution. It was a living hell. Historys there so that we can look back and learn.

All this stuff now about, no, we shouldnt have regulation, oh, we must have innovation, no, governments have no place in all this. Let everybody run ahead and do their own thing, and then well work the problems out. Theyll move fast and break things.

What we should be looking at is saying, no, we do need regulation. We need to learn from the past. We cannot allow this to simply be directed by rich guys. This should not be in private hands.

So it does need very different solutions and global solutions. You know, look, Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said earlier this year that we must urgently regulate big tech, stop it becoming this monopoly, and stop it having this malign effect.

kara swisher

Well

jeanette winterson

Not intentionally malign, but malign.

kara swisher

Sometimes. I think sometimes its intentional.

jeanette winterson

I mean, I really dont think anybody started out to do this in the way that its turned out. Maybe thats optimistic.

kara swisher

I would agree with that. But I think with tons and tons of proof now, they continue down the same road.

jeanette winterson

They do. Youre absolutely right. And theres no excuse for that. But thats where we are now, you know. Its got to stop, and it needs really strong government, but that needs to be backed by citizens like you, like me, just saying, we want this.

kara swisher

But what can regular non-tech people do? I just interviewed Dave Eggers, for example, and he talks about how convenience tends to win out. So does Margrethe Vestager same thing who is in the European Union.

That we all become complicit in it by ordering from Amazon. Its easier, its better, its cheaper, et cetera. What do we have to do to hold ourselves responsible for the unintended consequences that these tech giants make?

jeanette winterson

Theres two things. One is we have to take responsibility to say, O.K., how does my behavior impact on the world? How can I be the change we want to see? We know how to do that. We can work it out. We can change our habits.

We can also learn from our kids, who are often holding their parents to account and telling us how to behave better, which I really appreciate. Thats important. But at the same time, we shouldnt fall for the seductions of big oil.

When they invented carbon footprint, they were really saying, oh, its not our fault. Were just giving you what you want. You change the way you live, and we dont have to do anything.

That was just smoke and mirrors, and seductions of the worst kind. Yes, each of us is individually responsible and, I believe, can make significant changes. But we also have to be aware and not passive.

And weve gotten very passive. We think somebody else will sort this out, somebody else will solve it. Thats not going to happen. So it is about voting with your feet, saying no, I wont support this company, I will support that company, but also trying to hold governments to account and say to them, you know what, we would like more legislation. We will pay more tax.

You know, weve got the rhetoric wrong. The story were telling now is not a story thats going to help us to go forward.

kara swisher

So one of the things Facebook is trying to do is distract everyone with this metaverse push and possible name change. And Im not sure if this is the company we want to build the metaverse. In fact, Im certain its not.

jeanette winterson

Im with you there.

kara swisher

But Im curious what you think. What do you think about this idea of the metaverse where we live in this all the time?

jeanette winterson

I know. I think it is a distraction. I think what people could do with now is some really simple basic solutions to how were going to bring down the temperature and help with global warming. Theres stuff we need to do, which is not about fancy concepts.

Its not even about really big solutions. Its a matter of governments and big corporations to look at the facts, not the magical thinking, and say, we need to start making these changes. And I believe people would come on board. I think a lot of people in the world are very uneasy about this moment and would like to be part of the solution. They dont want to be part of the problem.

kara swisher

Right, so its some of them do.

jeanette winterson

Yeah, some of them do. But a lot of just your Ordinary Joes, your decent folks I know theyre struggling to manage. But they would prefer they have kids. They want to see a world for their kids. If they had a story that said, this is what we can do, all of us, and were all going to do it together, then that would start to change things.

kara swisher

So your book ends in an interesting place. You say humanitys biggest problem is love. What do you mean by that?

jeanette winterson

I mean, I was trying to move past, I think, one of the disasters of the Enlightenment, which really is the Ren Descartes maxim that everybody knows I think, therefore I am that the definition of a human is the thinking, rational, logical capacity.

And that hasnt been great, because you cannot split the mind and the body like that. You cannot split the head and the heart like that. Its the worst possible binary. We know you cant have a thought without a feeling.

And what we need now, I think, is to bring in a more compassionate response to the rest of the planet, to whoever else we share the planet with, and work out how were going to stay here and make it function. With or without A.I., this is our only home. Were not going into space anytime soon. Not many of us, not in a viable way.

kara swisher

We did talk about space very briefly. If you had to go up into space with one of these guys, which one would you pick? Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Richard Branson? And you dont get to come back. You have to live on Mars with them.

jeanette winterson

What, forever?

kara swisher

Thats your next novel, just so you know. But go ahead, yeah.

[WINTERSON CHUCKLES] Well, until your body breaks down and you need to be, you know, disembodied. But

jeanette winterson

O.K. Well, I cant go anywhere with Jeff Bezos.

kara swisher

Why? (LAUGHING) Why? You have to say why.

jeanette winterson

Oh. [LAUGHS] Because the Amazon model is just wrong. Its wrong, and I dont want to buy into that.

kara swisher

And also, his rockets shaped like a penis. But go ahead. Keep going.

jeanette winterson

Oh, I know, thats just ludicrous. I dont think hes got any self-reflection. You couldnt build a rocket like that, could you, if you had any self-reflection?

kara swisher

Yeah.

jeanette winterson

So hed just talk about himself all the time, and that would be awful. Elon Musk is an interesting guy. I think he does have a utopian vision. Theres a lot about Tesla, which interests me. But would I want to spend time on Mars with him? No. I suppose Id choose Richard Branson, because he would probably be able to do more than talk about himself.

kara swisher

All right, so the funny the fun guy is who youre going for?

jeanette winterson

Id go for Branson. You know, hes British, so maybe wed get on a bit better.

kara swisher

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, sticking with the Brits.

jeanette winterson

If Branson doesnt want to come with me, then O.K., Ill go with Elon Musk.

kara swisher

All right, this has been great. Jeanette Winterson, thank you so much. Its such a delight to talk to you.

jeanette winterson

Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

Sway is a production of New York Times Opinion. Its produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, and Caitlin OKeefe; edited by Nayeema Raza, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Sonia Herrero, and Carole Sabouraud, and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Mahima Chablani.

If youre in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If youre listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of Sway delivered to you, along with a one-way ticket to Mars alongside the fun billionaire, Richard Branson, download any podcast app, then search for Sway and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

www.actusduweb.com
Suivez Actusduweb sur Google News


Recevez des mises à jour en temps réel directement sur votre appareil, abonnez-vous maintenant.

commentaires

Ce site utilise des cookies pour améliorer votre expérience. Nous supposerons que cela vous convient, mais vous pouvez vous désinscrire si vous le souhaitez. J'accepte Lire la suite