If to Err is Human, and to Purr is Cat – then What is to AI? Blush?
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
And boy! Have I been pierced? Or as Jane Austen famously wrote in Pride and Prejudice, “You have bewitched me body, and soul.” I don’t remember when I found ‘comfort’ in the disturbing chaos of dystopian literature. The first dystopian “novel” I read was George Orwell’s 1984 (is it fair to call them novel or fiction?) Or is it mirroring the reality of the day and age we are currently in? Nestling in the comfort of dystopia – it appears as though everything in our world can be reasoned out and deconstructed. Whether it is Andaman island’s Cellular Jail and its eerie similarity to Michel Foucault’s Panopticon theory – I found reasons and theories for everything that makes our skin crawl.
Today I review Aldous Huxley’s novel, “Brave New World”. It is a classic dystopian work that has been widely read and discussed since its publication in 1932. The novel presents a “near” future, in which people are born into predetermined social classes, conditioned to accept their place in society, and drugged into a state of complacency.
Reading the novel I realised that the most striking aspect of the novel is Huxley’s depiction of a world in which pleasure and instant gratification are the ultimate goals of life. Activities that “generate” happiness outlets with a highly constant momentum. Imagine remaining blissfully happy all the time, throughout our lives, devoid of the ability to experience any other expression. The characters in the novel are shown to be preoccupied with instant gratification to an extent that they are devoid of any genuine human connection or emotion. This leads to a profound sense of alienation and despair, even in characters who seem to be “content” with their lives. They are monitored to remain “happy”, which becomes their end-goal.
Huxley’s portrayal of the role of technology and science in society is also a major theme in the novel. The dystopian society depicted in “Brave New World” is one in which technological progress has led to a complete loss of humanity, with people being treated like machines to be engineered and programmed. The novel raises important questions about the consequences of unchecked scientific progress and the dangers of dehumanizing technology.
At one point in the novel, “human” characters can feel uni-dimensional and lacking in depth, which makes it difficult for readers to connect with them. Huxley has been outstanding in creating proto-types of humans who are “programmed” to live a certain way. The characters believe what they believe because they are conditioned to do so. Shock is instantly replaced with happiness, anger is absent and crying is not allowed. There is an underlying message which is
obvious or perhaps not. Technological advances may aid us in our everyday living becoming an extended arm of virtual identity, but the question remains dangling – “Will AI replace humans?”
It is absurd at this moment to think of such a disruption – AI cannot replace human emotions. 2023 is indeed a brave new world but conscious thinking, ability to feel and express breaks the monotony of the functioning that a machine generates – optimum performance. Humans are not capable and should not be capable of optimum performance. To err is human! ChatGPT may very well draft a solidarity note as a “technological assistant” but it is wild to think that it will ever be able to extend the solidarity that humans can to one another. Something that has been understood very well during the pandemic – after being devoid of human touch.
Can these interventions threaten the fundamental human values and beliefs?
Yes, it could.
Take a look at our Instagram profiles or Linkedin profiles for that matter – it is a “desire” to remain pitch-perfect inducing the constant feeling of underachievement or unhappiness. Why? We are becoming habitual of the idea of remaining blissfully happy at optimum level.
This is what makes Huxley’s Brave New World relevant in our times.
Relevance of Huxley’s Brave New World relevant in our times
While the novel was written almost a century ago, its central themes and ideas are still very pertinent today. Huxley’s portrayal of a dystopian future where technology and consumerism have replaced human connection and emotion. This feels as though these were predictions made at that time. It is ironic that we call it “fiction”.
Furthermore, Huxley’s portrayal of a society that values immediate pleasure and gratification over deeper human connections and emotions also resonates with our contemporary world. We live in a culture that increasingly emphasizes instant gratification and immediate rewards, often at the expense of more meaningful, long-term relationships and experiences. The novel reminds us that while pleasure and satisfaction are important, they are not enough to sustain a truly fulfilling life.
People are engineered and conditioned from birth to fit into predetermined roles, and their lives are tightly controlled by the state. Here are a few examples of how technology impacts human relations in the novel, and how they connect to our current times:
- Social conditioning: In the novel, people are conditioned to accept their roles in society and to be content with their lot in life. This conditioning is achieved through the use of advanced technology, such as hypnopaedia, which is a form of sleep-teaching that reinforces social norms and values. Today, we see similar forms of social conditioning in our own society, such as the way that media and advertising shape our desires and expectations, and the use of social media algorithms to reinforce our existing beliefs and biases.
- The pursuit of pleasure: In “Brave New World,” people are encouraged to seek pleasure and avoid pain at all costs. This is achieved through the use of a powerful drug called Soma, which produces a state of euphoria and numbs the senses. In our own society, we see a similar obsession with pleasure-seeking and the use of drugs to alter consciousness. For example, the opioid epidemic has had a devastating impact on communities across the world, and many people use drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses of daily life.
- Dehumanization: One of the central themes of “Brave New World” is the dehumanizing effect of technology. In the novel, people are reduced to mere objects, with their lives controlled by the state and their emotions suppressed through the use of drugs and conditioning. This dehumanization is also evident in our own society, where the rise of automation and artificial intelligence threatens to replace human workers with machines, and where social media can sometimes lead to a loss of empathy and human connection.
To examine this deeply, let’s take the popular example of Blinkit’s 10-minute delivery service.
In the novel, the powerful drug/aid “soma” sends the characters into a state of euphoria having no resilience to the perils or handling traumas of life. To each problem there is one solution – “Soma”, numbing the ability to experience human pain.
Juxtaposing it to Blinkit’s 10-minute delivery service which is designed to provide people with immediate gratification and convenience, but at the expense of everything we discussed above –
By prioritizing speed and efficiency over all else, the service reduces humans to mere consumers, whose only goal is to satisfy their immediate desires. In doing so, it reinforces the message that pleasure and gratification are the most important things in life, and that human connections and relationships are secondary.
Furthermore, Blinkit’s delivery service could be seen as a form of social conditioning, similar to the hypnopaedia used in “Brave New World.” By using sophisticated algorithms and data analysis to target consumers and shape their desires and expectations, the service reinforces existing social norms and values, and encourages people to conform to a particular way of life.
Blinkit’s 10-minute delivery service may be convenient and efficient, it also raises important questions about the impact of technology on human relations and the way that we live our lives. Like the dehumanizing technologies portrayed in “Brave New World,” it is important that we critically examine the effects of these technologies on our humanity and our ability to connect with one another in meaningful ways.