Tethix Storytime: Collective Futurecrafting with Rainbow Mirrors

Welcome to Tethix Storytime. A series in which we explore tech ethics with storytelling.

In tonight’s story, we explore how we might collectively craft more diverse future visions by looking into Rainbow Mirrors instead of succumbing to Bright or Black Mirror visions that appear inevitable.

Video thumbnail showing a campfire and the storyteller Alja
You can also listen to this story on YouTube.

The fire apprentices of Silicon Valley are telling us that AI will fix climate. Scale is magic, when in doubt, scale it up, preaches OpenAI. With growth, productivity, and efficiency completing the pantheon of Silicon Valley at which we are all expected to worship.

Tech keynotes and demos dazzle us with images of smiling human doings who thrive on productivity, always on, always awake, generating data 24/7, nature just a backdrop for selfies and adventures.

Tech companies move fast and break things in the pursuit of these Bright Mirrors, where every thing and every one is clean, simple, efficient, productive, categorized, all friction and dissent removed with surgical precision. Diversity embraced only at surface-level, tolerated only as long as you are values-aligned and worship the tech pantheon.

But if the sun is always shinning, where is the rain that will nourish the land? If the sun is always shinning or a screen is always glowing, how can you sleep, rest, and listen to your own thoughts?

When you look closely, the light shining in these bright mirrors is an illusion, and each Bright Mirror is just a Black Mirror the Netflix series warned us about. The Bright Mirrors of mindless acceleration are built on the backs of content moderators, data labelers, feedback givers, mineral miners, who are traumatized at best and killed at worst, amplifying all the colonizing practices that led to our polycrisis.

We are told these Bright Mirrors are inevitable, that eventually everyone will be better off, that AI will fix climate, that AI will fix all the problems we created. We just have to trust the people who like to move fast and break things. Trust the same people who also tell us AI might be an existential risk. Surrender our data, our lands, our water to feed the machines that are supposed to save us from ourselves, to feed the AI models that have learned our biases.

The makers of these Bright Mirrors would have us believe our only choice is between light and dark mode in the apps they so graciously deploy, that AI is destined to support infinite economic growth.

But if they can scale their biases, we can scale different, regenerative narratives. After all, it was us who wrote the words and drew the images that trained the AI models. We’re all potential experts in technologies that have helped humanity survive so far: stories, collaboration, care, love, among others.

We can use the technologies we built, together, to keep learning from each other, to listen to stories sung by different lands, to reconnect with our places. To care, again, deeply for each other and the land.

It is an uncomfortable ask for those of us who are used to staring at Bright Mirrors. To acknowledge our mistakes as white people and colonizers, to acknowledge that the lifestyle we lead is made possible by a supply chain of exploitation and extraction. To acknowledge our children will inherit an unstable climate and pay the price for our selfish choices.

It’s asking you to stand outside in a storm, with the power of thunder rattling your bones, the cold wind cutting into your flesh, the rain beating down on your skin, your entire body shivering to keep you from freezing… You want to run back into the enticingly warm embrace of the Bright Mirror, even though you know it’s an illusion, even though you know somebody else is paying the price…

But if you can manage to sit with this feeling, the storm passes and sunshine starts coming through. The warmth you feel doesn’t compare to the warmth of the screens. Your clothes and skin feel lighter, and a rainbow appears that reminds you of how wonderful and awe-inspiring life is on our home planet. You start feeling like a human being again, and soak in the sun together with the birds, the trees, and the land that has been tested but also nourished by the storm. And you can see how an AI-enabled future is not necessarily exploitative in nature.

This is what it feels like to look into a Rainbow Mirror, which doesn’t hide the complexities and the uncomfortable questions. A Rainbow Mirror that embraces diversity and shows a regenerative and interconnected vision of technology that supports an ecological balance.

Right now, looking into a Rainbow Mirror is not easy. The Rainbow Mirror visions are still blurry because the Bright Mirrors have dulled our moral imagination. And, unlike with Bright Mirrors, looking into a Rainbow Mirror is not an individual effort, it’s a collective undertaking and most of us are not used to doing things together anymore.

And so, this is your invitation to sit around the campfire together and start feeding your moral imagination by telling stories, listening to the land, listening to First Nations peoples.

At some point, our children, and their children, are going to ask us why didn’t we care more? Why did we build all this technology to learn and dream together and then used it to chase individual productivity? Why did we build generative AI that can help us envision different futures and then used it to summarize PDF reports?

Today is just one of the days when you can turn your gaze away from the Bright Mirrors that are drawing you in like a moth to a flame. And realize you are, in fact, standing outside, in a storm, and have the opportunity to find others who will help you increase your possibility space and discover the paths that lead to preferable futures.

So, let us spend the time we have together wisely. Tap into the wisdom of our bodies and places to challenge the stories of inevitability and start collectively crafting a better future for ourselves and our children’s children.

And that, my friends, is a story for another time.

If you’d like to read more stories like this, please share the story with a friend or colleague.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you around the campfire again.

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