The phrase “Deus Ex Machine” is derived from the Latin phrase “deus ex machina,” which means “god from the machine.” The phrase is often used to describe a sudden, unexpected event that changes the course of a story. The story I’d like to tell you, is how my book What Makes Us Human? came into being. My mother died during Covid and I like so many other people during the first phase of the pandemic, couldn’t be by her side. I did try and I started the 16 hour drive to get to her bedside before she passed, only to be phoned by my aunt halfway there, who gave me the news that she’d died. I was in the middle of nowhere, under an infinite blue sky but I turned the car around and drove the 8 hours back home, choosing very carefully the albums I was going to listen to, knowing I would never be able to listen to them again without being back on that lonely road. When I got home, my wife hugged me and then I went to explain to my four year old that her grandmother was dead and I wasn’t really prepared for that at all – she comprehended it in a way so profound it destroyed her and while I did my best to comfort her, I don’t know if there was anything I could’ve done better. If my mom had been there, she’d probably have mentioned something from the bible, or found some word of comfort from a song, or something else, because that’s the kind of thing she used to do.
A few months later, I was working as a consultant with an AI startup called copysmith.ai, teaching the truly-mind-blowing artificial intelligence GPT-3 how to think of headlines or other ideas when I realised something pretty profound – if I could prompt GPT-3 on headlines, ideas I’d had before or anything else, I could prompt it with spiritual works, like the Bible, or the poetry of Rumi, or the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, or any of the other things that my mother used to reference when she comforted me when she was around. So I spoke to my friend and co-author Jasmin Wang, who laid out a path for what the process of having that kind of interaction might look like. One night, I loaded up a prompt and asked,
“How do I explain death to my children?”
This was the response –
Encourage them to celebrate
the lives of other people.
Tell them that the dead are not dead,
not in the way we think of it.
Tell them they live on
as they are remembered.
Tell them every goodbye is really a hello
to a different way of being.
Tell them they are loved
and will always be loved.
Tell them they never have to feel alone.
Tell them the world is magical
and mysterious and strange.
Tell them they are part of the mystery
and the magic and the beauty of it.
And then I asked another question. And another. And another. And another. The questions, answers and everything that followed is contained within my new book, What Makes Us Human? – I’d be honored if you’d consider preordering it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon – and let me know what you think. You can also learn more about the story and the technology behind the book here.
Thank you for your time,