Back To The Future

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RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR

“Blessings upon Cadmus, the Phoenicians, or whoever it was that invented books,” wrote philosopher Thomas Carlyle. Carlyle, for all practical purposes, hadn’t foreseen the advent of electronic publishing, or the possibility of something as smart as the electronic book — in his wildest of dreams — the jazzy cultural, or philosophical, touchstone. The printed word, on paper, was too sacred a proposition for someone like him, like most of us — especially, committed book lovers. It still is — no matter the changing graph in one’s perceptions today, thanks to our singular love for the magical chip and all its wondrous, dappled uses.

Whatever one’s understanding of high-tech publishing, it goes without saying that all of it originated from the humblest of beginnings — a pioneer called Johannes Gutenberg, and his first printing press. A simple, but profound process — one that is now too deeply entrenched in our psyche. Of the smell of paper, the ink, and that great, elemental feeling of a published work in hand. It still holds magic — one that enraptures us, even if we don’t really read books as much as we did before. Blame it too on our own overwhelmingly well-orchestrated preoccupations, the pressures of modern living, or the supremacy of television and the Internet — and, you have a plethora of abstractions as to why the reading habit is increasingly being undermined by sleek intrusions.

In reality, however, things are not as bad as you’d think. Printed books are being published — in millions. People still read them for a host of reasons. And, what’s more, you’ve bestsellers, not in their dozens, but in any number, rolling out of the press practically every day, interspersed with several awards and honours — including the noble Nobel. They are all books in a profusion of genres — from fiction, non-fiction etc., to the so-called ‘barometer’ that measures your pristine intellect and acumen. It is something that you ought to have in your résuméNew-Age wisdom, or the back-to-the-future sort of conscious feeling, and the web of life itself. It’s a pre-requisite for success — a celebration of a whole, new world of spiritual materialism.

Not that the human brain is in trouble; but the E-invasion is fully agog. Of machines, or products of human engineering intelligence, geared to take over the world. You may believe it, or you may also think that all this is illogical alarm, or artificial hype, or hoopla. It all depends on your school of thought. Yet, one fact remains. We are dwarfed by our own technological advance. More importantly, we have yielded our psyche to integrated circuits and their mechanical offspring — not simple, harmonious, or abundant living.

You’d think of the whole expanse as a cutting-edge theme too: where human technology is going next. Yet, its voyage is philosophically receptive, with emphasis on the narrative: of the exploration of new computer innovations for human life and the eventual victory of the virtual over the real itself. You’d also think of new-fangled, interactive electronic books as our futuristic theme song. This is nothing short of an intellectual exercise, all right. Not only that. It conceives its main mantle on independent robot-run industries of the future: of industries where one could transfer wealth, along with eventual replacement of organic human beings by mechanistic progeny, or ‘mind children.’ Its spectrum of vision is new Artificial Intelligence [AI] — the next evolutionary stride. The inference is obvious — the spectacular idea bids fair to the fact that once such intelligence is created by natural selection, it’s just a matter of time before higher intelligence outdoes its creators and displaces them to some, if not the whole, extent.

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