Conference Summary: AI and The End of the Anthropocene

On November 17, 2021, the Iliff School of Theology’s Artificial Intelligence Institute hosted a virtual conversation titled “AI, Tech, and the End of the Anthropocene.” The conversation largely focused on confronting the impact of industrial technologies on the environment, with Kate Crawford drawing from her work on AI and resource extraction (related to her book Atlas of AI) and Timothy Beal drawing from his work on coping with the end of the world as we know it (related to his forthcoming book When Time Is Short: Finding Our Way in the Anthropocene).

When I first saw the title of the event, I thought it was just meant to be provocative. But it was actually predicative. Crawford and Beal seem convinced that we are living in the last days, and that we should be having more conversations about palliative care than corrective cures: how do we as a species, or at least as a technological civilization, die well? Philip Butler, who capably moderated the conversation, contributed insights from his own work (related to his books Black Transhuman Liberation Theology: Technology and Spirituality and Critical Black Futures: Speculative Theories and Explorations) and pointed to alternate sources of hope from Black, Indigenous, and other ancient perspectives.

At the end of this conversation exploring hospice care as the appropriate metaphor for confronting our historical moment, I was reminded of a few lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker”: “The whole earth is our hospital / Endowed by the ruined millionaire. …” Whether one is convinced we are living in a hospice or a hospital, reflecting on our ends provides a vital perspective on the present. For, as Eliot says at the end of this poem, “In my end is my beginning.”

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