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If we lose our ability for amazement, we lose our ability to think

I was recently invited to do a presentation about a topic of my interest, the emerging future. After the initial formalities, I focused on Artificial Intelligence and on intelligent robots. The participants reacted with the deepest indifference and silence I have seen in a long time.

I shared with them the examples of Sophia, the first robot to become citizen of a country (Saudi Arabia) and Pepper, a robot priest in Japan. Yawning and more silence.

I mentioned that the future is no longer a continuation of the past and that we live in the society of pre-programmed obsolescence. For that reason, everything we have and everything we know is already “old: the moment we acquired that knowledge or object. Nothing. Not even a blink from the audience.

I wanted to change the situation and to have some dialogue. So, I mentioned a few examples, including the space hotel planned to be built by Orion Span in the next couple of years, and the new “flying train”, a project of Akka Technologies, a French company. Basically, it is a new kind of plane, where the cabin for passengers is a train that joins the rest of plane (wings, control cabin) once the train arrives at the airport.

Nothing. Not even a question.

I know very well that everyday life imposes on us many urgencies to the point we can’t pay attention to the emerging reality. And I also know, based on my personal experience of many years, that my presentations are seldom, if ever, funny or entertaining. But I can’t remember a situation of a group of adults showing this level of apathy to the presenter they invited.

So, I changed strategies again and I began to share a few personal stories, including the psychological and cultural impact my first trip to the United States had on me decades ago. Or my memory about the first time using a fax machine, not understanding that technology.

I believe that if a hippopotamus dressed as a ballerina were teaching a cooking class to that group, the result would be the same: apathy. Something was clearly wrong. Something was happening, and I didn’t know what.

I decided it was time to have a direct conversation with the participants. I asked from names, where they were from, and reasons to attend the presentation. Remember: they invited me. A few gave their names. A few more just smiled. Most, however, decided to look at the ceiling.

Then, unexpectedly, somebody answered a call in his cell. After a brief conversation on the phone, which I wasn’t paying too much attention, the person who got the call stood up and told the group: “They just finished repairing the A/C at our building. We can go now”. So, they all left almost immediately.

Obviously, I was upset. I was there to entertain, not to do a presentation. I was amazed by my own naiveté, so much so that I decided to reflect about what I just had experienced.

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