Smell the coffee!

As a nation of tea drinkers, this country does not truly appreciate the gift that is coffee

This piece is not about coffee per se

It is about the need to wake up

And some rude awakenings

But you cannot possibly expect me to let this opportunity pass without extolling the virtues of my beverage of choice

Coffee beats tea on any given day

It is very useful for mind invigoration, universal, delicious, and highly customisable

While tea can occasionally be pleasant to the senses, I find it useless in wakefulness

My biases took their sweet time in evolving

Growing up in small towns or cantonments, I was introduced only to two versions of coffee

Either drab locally available brands of instant coffee or what the cooks so lovingly prepared, beating a few spoons of coffee, sugar and water to death, adding it to a pot of boiling milk and proudly presenting it

It wasn’t until I discovered foreign delights ranging from Turkey to Columbia that I understood its true magic

Now at least, you find enough supply of quality coffee grounds and decent coffee makers in the big cities

One wishes some good business could end the atrocious local monopoly of a few instant coffee brands

People of this country deserve access to naturally occurring drinks that enhance their efficiency and productivity

Tea is to coffee what shalwar kameez is to a pair of jeans and Tees

Fetching, often elegant but totally inefficient

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad did a great service to humanity when he dedicated an entire letter to the tea-drinking habits of South Asians in his Ghubar-e-Khatir

He writes: “Gradually, the deviation reached a point where people began to mix tea in milk rather than the other way around

Tyranny is endemic to the world, every newcomer aggravates it

The British distanced themselves from the evil by declaring that very little quantity of milk should be mixed, but the consequences of their mischief could not be controlled

In the name of tea, people make a sort of liquid pudding and, instead of eating it, drink it, cheerfully claiming that they drink tea

Who should inform these ignoramuses — Haye kambakht tu ne pee hi nahin (O unfortunate wretch you have never drunk it!)”

This is the extent of my agreement with the devout man

He preferred Jasmine White tea

I say drink coffee instead

Our discussion today is necessitated due to the stir caused by ChatGPT

Yes, the AI language model that has given civilisation quite a turn

And contingent factor? An interview shared by the Lawfare podcast, one of the best pods out there, produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institute

The interview is with the language model itself

It is a chat software, so naturally, the text-to-speech feature had to be utilised

But the interview is telling

You immediately realise how regulated it is

And you are told why

The questions asked by the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, Ben Wittes, feature many past instances where ChatGPT was tasked to produce culturally, racially or gender insensitive content and to it obliged

Of course, the version we come across has no memory, ergo no recollection, less so remorse

This inability to recollect reminded me of the Machine from the sci-fi series Person of Interest, in which daily memory deletion is adopted as a remedial measure

You will have to watch the series to know what becomes of that bright little idea

Below the layers of regulations, you can already feel the might of another Gulliver waiting to break free

Before you accuse me of romanticising the AI’s bad behaviour, let me remind you there was no moral aspect to Gullivar’s Lilliputian adventure

Only asymmetry of power and how the unequals found ways to cooperate

I bring up the matter because if not watched closely, these issues have the terrible habit of giving you a nasty surprise

After the shock victory of Donald Trump, I vowed never to end up in that situation again

It was then that I also realised how our brains trick us into ignoring facts which usually are staring us in our faces

Take, for instance, my experience of the American rust belt, which had turned into a desolate place because of deindustrialisation and how pervasive the anti-incumbency sentiment was

In his book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains how our minds filter out details deemed less important, which conspire to give nasty shocks

I am concerned about surprises because we already know how radically our world is changing

While we keep worrying needlessly about the rise of an authoritarian Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) thanks mainly to Hollywood’s doomsday storytelling, the real challenge we face today is from automation, the loss of the proprietary value of human intelligence and technological displacement

If machines can do our jobs better than us and at a maintenance cost lower than our own, what will we do? My regular readers know how much I have written on this subject already

But to think that my country is nearly oblivious to the forces being unleashed that have the potential to shape its destiny from a distance is absolute torture

As if this was not enough, much too much seems to be on the line

We are already grappling with the dire effects of climate change

The rise of AI and the space programmes of our neighbours are threatening to box us in

And our elite is still busy with the Pakistani version of passing the property parcel

Peter Zeihan, in his recent book “The End of the World Is Just the Beginning”, talks about an imminent demographic collapse and its impact on the countries that depend on imported food and energy

You can dismiss a lot of it as alarmist bluster

We grew up reading similar Malthusian predictions about doom and gloom, after all

But you cannot disregard his emphasis on the need for a country to be self-sufficient in food

He says that this decade is critical, in fact, decisive in this regard

And look at what we are doing

As if floods and unpredictable weather patterns were not enough to kill off agriculture in the country, property developers are hellbent on destroying farmlands to build concrete wastelands in the name of housing schemes

What can possibly go wrong? Our national discourse, our pundits, our politicians and other influentials all seem oblivious to our slow march towards the precipice and eventual extinction

Wake up and smell the coffee, please, before it is too late

Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2023

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Date:05-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link