As I am a philologist and poet, it is inevitable that my way of thinking about things has become entangled in some pages that are part of me and that have taught me, among other things, that metaphors are a double-edged sword.
By inviting us to look at the world from a certain perspective, they can make us freer and more just or more servants.
To understand that having a job is not the same as having a vocation, few readings are as advisable as a lecture by Juan Ramón Jiménez, written in 1936, entitled
. Whoever has a job does his job to earn money; those who have a vocation make love for their work a sphere of human commitment. It's not just about money, but about the ethics that one chooses to relate to with others. The joyful work of Juan Ramón Jiménez, who took care of words with the love of a poet, made him notice the love of a gardener from Seville when interacting with his flowers, a Granada-born irrigator with water, a charcoal burner from Palos with his donkey and a Malaga mechanic with engines. "Cars also want their care," said the mechanic, making an effort to avoid breakdowns and accidents for travelers. Love, Juan Ramón points out, is the poetic gain of life, a gain of ethical depth in coexistence.
This pampering of machines is a way of recognizing that their operation is a responsibility of human beings. It should be remembered now that digital transformation and artificial intelligence have become the refrain and the new West for gold seekers. That is why it should be remembered that digital culture is not a closed and already written horizon, but a space for the future from which undeniable advantages can arise for coexistence or cruel forms of authoritarian control and commercialization of the world. It should also be remembered that artificial intelligence exists only as a metaphor, because machines do not think, since they do not have feelings. To think well it is necessary to know what a chill means. What is called artificial intelligence is the result of human programming.
Enrique Díaz Álvarez, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and former head of the Nelson Mandela Chair, has just won the Anagrama essay award with his book
The word appears (2021
). Among other concerns about the manipulations of the past, it is inevitable that he also worries about the future: “As the body becomes data and an algorithm foresees our tastes and movements, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet and agree with what is foreign, the reluctant, the dissimilar, and the opposite. Coping with disagreement. Neo-fascism and postmodern tribalism have a lot to do with this narrow-mindedness ”.
Literature teachers usually explain the profound change in thinking that the passage from a rural world to an urban world meant. Baudelaire pointed out that the poet's aura fell to the ground when he had to jump quickly to avoid being run over by the horse-drawn carriage that was speeding down a boulevard in Paris. Positive things took place in this change, such as the freedom that Galdós recognized in the cities in the face of the unalterable dogmas that had taken over the towns; but there were also very negative realities, such as the great pockets of urban poverty and the unjust and exploitative industrialization that Dickens narrated in his novels.
Let's be careful, Martín Caparrós asks us in his chronicles on Hispanic society, gathered under the title
(2021). The digital transformation involves a change similar to the passage from rural culture to urban culture. So it is not an "economic or technical issue: it is political." It is false to say that the Mediterranean Sea generates death, concealing that it is the human management of the sea and migration that causes thousands of victims. The same injustice can be hidden under the formula "artificial intelligence" in its commercial, political and sentimental manipulations. It is not a problem of the machines, but of their programming by some human beings.
Amazon launched in 2014 a voice-controlled virtual assistant by the name of Alexa (in homage to the Library of Alexandria). The habit of commanding a machine with your voice is causing familiar surprises when a five-year-old approaches a mother or servant with an authoritative expression to tell her to turn off the light or bring her water. Engineers investigating driverless cars, an immediate reality, get goose bumps when they have to program a reaction to an incident. What is more ethical, run over a mother who crosses the street in red with a little girl or avoid the run over by getting on the sidewalk and taking the 90-year-old man who is waiting for the green light ahead of him? Since machines do not think, the responsibility is human.
Now that we usually read the two or three news items that we like (in the newspapers that agree with us), confusing the world with our obsessions, we can understand how easy it is to manipulate an electoral campaign, a culture or a language. We are more signed than ever. All precautions are few. Governments such as those of Italy, the European Union or the United States have been forced to protect the data and begin to study restrictions for companies such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google for the use they make of the information. This is not just worrying news for a philologist when talking about machine language, but for any newspaper reader.
Taking care of a language is more than taking care of a vocabulary. It is not enough to worry that a sentence is grammatically correct, or that it arranges the subject, verb and predicate well. As pointed out by Professor Elena González-Blanco, research director at IE University's Center for the Governance of Change, it is a good challenge to create “an artificial intelligence as powerful as the number of Spanish speakers”. The language of machines is dominated today sharply by English. But not only because of a language, but also because of an ethic defined in the "Protestant white man" paradigm. Drivers tend to obey their GPS more easily when the voice giving directions is male.
Do we think these things to ourselves?
Do we make our mime to machines an ethical challenge in favor of freedom, equality and coexistence?
Is it responsible to put yourself without precaution in the hands of the multinationals that control the markets?
As in other areas, the answers to these questions can find good reference points in Spanish, a language not used to functioning as a business space for different
and which has managed to respect diversity as the best way to understand their unity.
The diversity of vocabularies and accents is a difficulty for machines that is worth cultivating for ethics.
In Spanish, the man is not a lobbyist for the man.
Luis García Montero
Luis García Montero
is director of the Instituto Cervantes.
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