We Don’t Really Want Your Participation

At the Singularity Summit yesterday, several speakers alleged that we should “reach out” to artists and poets to encourage their participation in the Singularity dialogue. So at the end of one such session, a woman went up to the audience microphone and said:

“I am an artist. I want to participate. What should I do?”

And there was a brief, frozen silence.

I wanted to leap up and say:

No, no, I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood. We’re just calling for greater participation by artists. We can get plenty of credit for being enlightened just by issuing the call. If we really cared what artists thought, we would find some artists and ask them questions, not call for artists to participate. We don’t actually want to hear from artists. We think your opinions are stupid.

And if she’d asked me afterward, my real answer would have been:

You are not an artist, you are a human being; art is only one facet in which you express your humanity. Your reactions to the Singularity should arise from your entire self. It’s perfectly all right to have a boringly normal and nonunique reaction like “I’m afraid,” or “I don’t think we should do this,” or “I want to help, where do I send the check?” The right answer is not always unusual. Your natural reaction does not need to be unique, and that’s why you don’t need to try to come up with an “artist’s viewpoint” on the Singularity. I would call on you to participate as a human being, not an artist. If your artistry has something to say, it will express itself naturally in your responses, without you needing to make a conscious effort to say something artist-like.

But I didn’t say any of this, of course. It would have been indecorous.

And while we’re on the subject, I would feel rather patronized—like a dog commanded to perform a trick—if someone presented me with a painting and said, “Say something mathematical!”