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waiting... (a Christmas Essay)

Picture. Human hand handing a Christmas ornament to a robot hand.

The occurrences around COVID-19 are dramatic and still at the end of 2021 the pandemic is still ongoing with strong impact on the ways of living of many.

For the ones, not immediately struck by the virus or its’ chain reactions, life can be characterised by slowness. The catastrophic is lurking like an undertow running below the mundane. Beneath Mundania. Corona-time is a liminal state, a state of waiting, a state of buffering. Therefore we once again promote the wise thoughts of Robert Willim in the video below.

waiting... (a Christmas Essay) from Robert Willim on Vimeo.

Q: What has happened since the video ''waiting'' was first launched in December one year ago? 

A: When I produced the video at the end of 2020 many things related to Covid-19 were different, but some are still almost the same. There's still a lot of uncertainties, and a diffuse state of waiting prevails. A waiting for something indeterminate. What will the Omicron variant mean, how long will vaccines work? What will be cancelled, what will mutate, what will change and what are the extended repercussions of the pandemic? Probably, the video will be seen in a slightly different way this year. 

Q: How can waiting be related to technology and specifically to AI?

A: I use the technological concept ”buffering” in the video to illustrate also societal and human conditions. Beyond situations when we sit by a screen waiting, watching the buffering circle spin, waiting for a video to load. Buffering can be about feelings that something is put on hold, that something is soon about to appear or proceed… but when and in what guise? And the slight ”buffering-irritation” that things are not running smoothly, it comes also in situations beyond online video. Maybe especially during today’s extended Corona-state.  
 
Waiting is intrinsic to much of the logic around tech. For an example, the waiting for upgrades, for hopefully improved versions of things. This is so central today. Upgrading patterns contribute to the polyrhythms of our lives with technologies. I don’t think we realize how much of that logic has become part of the way we understand the world. Together with other business logics. Product cycles, shelf lives and lead times. Upgrade and accelerate… (please repeat until disruption occur). 
 
And think about Vapourware. The third sibling next to hardware and software. Vapourware is that technological novelty that we have seen hinted at in press releases, in media coverage and through rumours. Innovations that maybe will appear as promised products and services. Metaverses and Xenobots. Coming offerings in a mist covered future. 
 
Or vapourware could also be that seemingly tiny longed for improvement. ”Why can’t they just make it work”… The upgrade that makes things smooth, that makes the waiting disappear. That makes progress bars and buffering circles disappear. 
 
Most of the potential of AI is still residing beyond some misty future horizon of vapourware. The blurry shapes of future AI might appear in different guises. Sometimes it can also be hinted at in fiction. Maybe AI appear as a red glowing dot, as an ominous red sun. Like the red circular manifestation of the eerie supercomputer HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 - A Space Odyssey. The computer with that inappropriatively calm voice. 
 
Then when looking a second time towards the horizon of vapourware, AI might appear as possible salvage from humanity’s perils, from climate crises and diseases. In these visions, AI appear more like the mysterious black monolith from the same movie universe as HAL. 
 
To some extent, when it comes to technology and the future , we probably don’t know what we are waiting for. Maybe the ominous voice of HAL or maybe the transformational power of the black monolith. What will appear is however determined by action.