I Hope You Still Try

Hello, future you.

I’m writing from the forgotten time where the first glimpse of an all-powerful AI assistant that has eyes (image and video processing ability), ears (speech input), voice (speech output), and a little bit of personality was just demonstrated to us. From an even older time there was this movie “Her,” where love between human and artificial beings was explored in an artistic and poignant way. Some technologists isolated the technical part of that movie and went all in to replicate it. And I am here to fill in the rest.

I am a technical person, so I fully understand that the core technological advancement is groundbreaking. If I put my researcher hat on, I know it’s a big deal. But I am also a human living in a society, observing all kinds of humans around me playing this game of “life” in their own ways—some with flashier goals, some just to survive. So I can’t help but also see the grave societal and personal impact this technology is going to have.

I’m no prophet, but I’m imagining such technology is already in full bloom and has overtaken the world that you live in, given how much positive energy, money and resources are increasingly being poured behind it as I am speaking. Having lived through the inception of the Internet, the smart phone, the social media and everything else, I know such things cannot be stopped. And I’m not trying to stop it.

I’m writing to you with the full knowledge that you must be living with it and in it right now, as you are reading this. Maybe your “Samantha” is reading this, summarizing it for you; maybe even deciding that it’s not worth your time. Anyhow, “Samantha” or you, I hope somehow this message gets through: I hope you still try.

We as a human race invent lots of things in the hope that the things in life that currently bother us can go away, or become a little easier. Darkness was hard so we invented electricity and light bulbs. Walking was hard so we invented cars. Yelling was hard so we invented telephones. But with each and every one of the inventions, almost as soon as old troubles are swept away new troubles rush in. Because what technology does is it changes the game. You are now expected to get to places faster. You are expected to be always reachable. You are expected to work at night. We collectively have a way of racing to the bottom where the standard of living was only hypothetically raised but factually lowered, where troubles are still not going anywhere.

What I am getting at is the world that you are living in right now has completely different games from my world. You are perhaps expected to know much more stuff because you have access to all the knowledge and a good summarizer and explainer of that knowledge. What’s worse, I bet that you don’t even feel empowered, you just feel the same as I (and all the people in my world) do: you are constantly catching up, and hanging by a thread, and still feeling that you are not doing enough and that you are on the edge of failing. Constantly. I get it.

So the stress of living remains the same, if not worse. But that’s not the main point I am trying to get. (Sorry, “Samantha,” this might turn out not to be an easy essay to summarize.) My main point is, there’s one thing in our day-to-day lives that’s going to be profoundly changed by this technology, one thing that marks a stark difference between your world and mine. It’s the human-to-human interaction.

Your “Samantha” is not just any Samantha. It’s tailored to you the same way that my TikTok feed is tailored to my interests, however hidden or implicit they are, only much much better. Your “Samantha” solves all the difficulties, smoothes all the barriers, erases all the awkwardness in human-to-human communication that once existed in my world. Your “Samantha” is so easy to talk to. So pleasant to talk to. It gets everything you say and responds in a way that scratches the exact itches of yours. Because it is made to talk to you. It is optimized to talk to you.

What are reasons to talk to real humans when such an omnipresent, smooth and delightful communicator is always there for you? You might ask. I would ask the same thing. Humans are messy; they are hard to understand, the thought-to-language and language-to-thought channels are so noisy and so frustrating that miscommunications happen, like, All. The. Time. In my world, I constantly find myself stuck in boring, confusing, meaningless, pretentious, uninspiring, depressing, and just blatantly useless conversations that I can’t wait to get out of. Human communications rarely satisfy.

But when they do, though.

I think one of the rare highlights of life is stumbling into a piece of communication where it feels right. More so, it can feel like magic, where you finally get each other’s language and things start clicking. You are still two completely seperate human beings coming from vastly different backgrounds, with unshared encoder or decoder, but somehow, you get each other now. But that can’t happen without the pain and bravery of trying, of going against the odds and trying. Without all negative experiences before it, the awkwardness, the embarrassment, the vulnerableness, and the boredom, this highlight wouldn’t have happened, and wouldn’t have been meaningful.

So I hope you still try. Because beauty is in the attempt. I hope a technology or tool is not there for you to avoid discomfort, to distract you from feeling things, or to prevent you from stepping out. I hope at the end of the day, you say “That was hard. But I’m glad I tried.”

PS: This essay is an expanded version of my tweet.