2023, A Year Of Tectonic Shift

August has been no vacation for many in the world. BRICS — the grouping comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — has reinvented itself, and we are reinventing “Breakfast with Chad.”

September 06, 2023 04:15 EDT
Dear FO° Reader,

In many parts of the world, August is the month of the dog days of summer and serves the purpose of promoting what the Italians call dolce far niente: a sweet moment when doing nothing is considered the norm. August is that privileged moment of the year when politicians and parliaments book their places on sandy beaches.

This year, however, chiefs of state coming from all over the world provided a pretext for revising our opinion of August. Thanks to the BRICS summit, it may turn out to be the most significant geopolitical month of the year 2023.

The eighth month of the modern calendar took its name from Augustus, Rome’s first and most glorious emperor. The preceding month, July, was named after the emperor’s uncle Julius Caesar, whose rise and assassination provoked the most important shift in Rome’s history as the republic morphed into an empire.

Image Credit – Stock-Asso / shutterstock.com

Following the unanimous decision of the BRICS five to expand to eleven, Vijay Prashad predicts that January 1, 2024, will mark a tectonic shift in the world’s geopolitical center of gravity, possibly as important as Rome’s transformation into an empire. The 2024 BRICS will represent a greater portion of the global GDP than the G7, which has at least symbolically embodied the authority of the extended West, under the leadership of the US. Can this be the beginning of a shift from the de facto US empire to the multipolar world many have predicted as its successor?

From “Breakfast with Chad” to “Outside the Box”

Geopolitics isn’t the only domain experiencing tectonic activity. Earlier this year, I made the case that the biggest cultural shift the globe has experienced in the past ten months belongs to our common technological landscape. The release of ChatGPT changed the way we think not only about intelligence but our own job security. More generally, it calls into question our identity as humans. In that spirit, at the beginning of the year, I launched a regular feature, “Breakfast with Chad,” that allowed me to “converse” with ChatGPT on the widest variety of topics.

For me personally, “Breakfast with Chad” was an exceptional learning experience. I now believe it is not only a fun way of doing journalism and playing with — even calling into question — the ideas our civilization appears to take seriously. That is why I believe it has the potential to be a powerful educational tool. But not in the way that Bill Gates thinks when he claims that “AI will be like a great high school teacher who really marks your essay, and you go back and think, ‘OK, I need to step up there.’” Good old Bill has always been guilty of conformist thinking. It even made him famous and rich.

What I propose is to treat AI not as an authority, but as a partner in dialogue, like a very clever classmate, who knows a lot but is quite capable of getting things wrong. I experimented with the idea in a course on geopolitics I taught earlier this year at IIT Gandhinagar.

Gates is wrong when he compares AI to a teacher. It cannot be trusted. It is incapable of empathy. Education and supposed experts like Gates need to lose their obsession with authoritative thinking and standardized knowledge. Education in the age of AI must learn to explore reality by engaging in dialogue with others. Dialogue, as Socrates demonstrated two and a half millennia ago, is quite the opposite of asking a question to receive an authoritative answer from those identified as possessing knowledge.

Oscar Wilde framed it in his own inimitable style. “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” What we know is what we have experienced and explored with others, not what we have been taught.

It is with this philosophy in mind that “Breakfast with Chad” has now morphed into a feature we are calling “Outside the Box.” In the first edition of “Outside the Box” on Monday, I made the case that AI, however rapidly it evolves, exists within a box. We don’t, at least not until Elon Musk builds his coveted boxlike bubble on Mars to keep us safe from ourselves as we go about destroying our current habitat.

“Outside the Box” will continue exploring the ways we can learn by socializing with AI and with one another. We intend to push the dialogue with AI to a “meta” level, allowing us to understand through experience what is going on when we interact with technology. That is how the Sophists who engaged in dialogue with Socrates learned to look beyond their preformed ideas and see philosophy as an ever-evolving process of understanding rather than an established body of knowledge. 

Fair Observer has always promoted the ideal of a global dialogue. Technology now allows us to go beyond just expressing points of view. We can engage with one another as well as with technology. That is the central theme we intend to explore and share with our community. Our dearest hope is that, thanks to expanding technological possibilities of dialogue, our community will actively participate in this endeavor.

My warmest regards,

Peter Isackson
Chief Strategy Officer
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