Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture

Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is the Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Archives

How I Turned My Smartphone Into a “Dumbphone”

I've had it being a pawn of Big Tech
The New Yorker ran a column last month on the extreme fatigue people are feeling from being online so much. Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Anxious Generation maps out the mental health ramifications of screen addiction, noting how the advent of the smartphone was conjoined with “safety-ism,” with parents refusing to let their kids play or take risks out of fear of them getting hurt. I’m an older member of Gen Z and was fortunate enough to be spared a smartphone until I was 17. (I was a rare bird. Most of my friends got smartphones when they were 14 or 15. Today the average is shockingly lower than that.) My case wasn’t, therefore, as serious as a lot of other kids my age, but getting a smartphone did change my life in some fundamental ways. I

Jerry Seinfeld Had a Bone to Pick with AI in His Duke Speech

Seinfeld: the implicit message of AI is that "you can't do it"
The iconic comedian and author Jerry Seinfeld gave the commencement speech to the class of 2024 at Duke University; as a supporter of the state of Israel, dozens of students walked out of the ceremony, chanting “free Palestine” while the larger crowds in the stadium counteracted by chanting “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” Seinfeld went on to give a wise, insightful, and of course, hilarious speech about hard work, family, and using one’s privilege to benefit the world. He also had some comedic remarks on artificial intelligence, and what the hype over large language models unfortunately says about modern American culture. “AI is the most embarrassing thing we’ve invented during man’s timeline on earth,” said Seinfeld. “This

Hurry Up, Let Me Evolve Already

A review of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes
The film, in keeping with the previous three in the series, is smart, exciting, and provocative. It forces the viewer to confront what it really means to be human.

Bizarre New iPad Pro Ad Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

Witnessing the rise of anti-human corporate tech
Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook shared the brand-new preview of the “thinnest iPad” to date, the iPad Pro, praising its portability and capacity. Capitalizing on the “thin” aspect, the promo commercial, titled “Crush!” has been turning heads and could also be accused of crushing the human spirit. The commercial plays to the song “All I Need is You” by Sonny & Cher, opening up with a metronome and a record player. Then, the scene broadens out to show a platform in the middle of a room piled with an array of gadgets and knickknacks, like a drum set, cans of paint, a trumpet, piano, bust of a Greco-Roman figure, a globe, chess set, and other goods that the mind naturally associates with human creativity and intellect. Above the

The Uniqueness of the Human Writer

LLMs are shortcuts, but sometimes the shortcut makes you miss the point of the journey
The place of the human writer in our increasingly automated world has been a point of debate for years, even before the advent of ChatGPT.

Beyond Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health

Social media addiction can harm more than our moods
A young writer, herself a member of Gen Z, has dared to point out the obvious about social media. Sure, it’s verifiably making us sad and anxious, but it goes beyond that: it’s turning us into bad people. Freya India, a columnist at Quillette and a new contributor to Jonathan Haidt’s Substack After Babel, notes that while it’s important to talk about social media and mental health, it’s just as vital to talk about what this stuff is doing to our character. She writes, Our loss of empathy, our lack of regard for others, our neurotic obsession with our own image — it’s taking a toll. Maybe subconsciously. But I think deep down we know it. We know when people are using their dying relatives for Twitter likes, filming their private moments

AGI as Magic: Not Real, But Still Deadly

AI's magical hype will continue to hypnotize, but its fundamental limits are stark, and need to be acknowledged.
Andy Crouch is a man who wants to evade the algorithm, so he doesn’t post much on X, but when he does, it’s generally an insightful nugget meant to be noted and digested. Crouch, a tech critic and a partner at Praxis Labs, doesn’t think AI will do all the wild stuff some of the futurists claim, but he does believe a belief in AI’s potential outlandish capacities, like consciousness, could be harmful. He posted on X, I continue to think the greatest risk of A(S|G)I is not that it will actually be achieved, but the dream of it being achieved.Magic isn't real, but the dream of magic is real and leads to real addiction, real exploitation, and violation of the dignity of persons and creation.— Andy Crouch (@ahc) April 23, 2024 The analogy with magic

Father Justin, a Chatbot, is Absolving Sinners

Critics are calling for the AI priest to be "taken down immediately."
Catholic Answers is a “media ministry that serves Christ by explaining and defending the Catholic faith,” according to their description on X. For Catholic observers, it serves as a good resource for deepening one’s faith and finding clarification on certain Catholic doctrines. However, the site recently introduced a controversial new member to the team: Father Justin, a chatbot “priest” designed to help answer people’s questions about Catholicism. In defense of this AI app, Catholic Answers said, As a leading Catholic apostolate, Catholic Answers is committed to leveraging the latest technologies to advance its mission of explaining and defending the Catholic faith. The Father Justin app is the latest example of this commitment, providing a new

Joe Rogan Spins Bizarre Take on Evolution and AI

The podcaster thinks AI could become "God"
Joe Rogan recently sat down with Tucker Carlson to have an often-bizarre conversation that involved everything from UFOs to evolution to saunas. Rogan’s comments on artificial intelligence, however, were some of the most provocative of the exchange, and reflected a sentiment common among futurists and transhumanists: AI could become a life form, evolve, and replace the human race. Rogan situates his views by noting that only humans think humans are important. In the grand scheme of the cosmos, human life is inconsequential. He went on to note that AI could become “God,” and evolve to a certain point where it would basically know everything there is to know. The question is: why would anyone want that, and why should that be the next step of evolutionary

Helpful Video Maps Out Gen Z Mental Health Crisis

The glow of the screen is swallowing a generation, and it needs to stop
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Anxious Generation topped the New York Times bestsellers’ chart two weeks in a row, and has been stirring up a lot of commentary in the meantime. Haidt’s basic thesis is that we have drastically overprotected children in the real world and woefully under-protected them in the virtual world. A new video helpfully lines out this argument, and shows why today’s generation, more than the Millennials who preceded them, struggle so intensely with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. In a recent interview, author and public intellectual Andy Crouch said that while he doesn’t know if it can be backed up neurologically, there is something about the “glow” of screens that wakens something

Remote Work: Liberation or a Major Step Back?

Feeling disconnected or undervalued can lead to quiet quitting, data shows
Articles and studies abound on the viability of remote work, particularly following the mass transformation of the white-collar workplace after 2020. While millennials and Gen-Z workers, fresh out of college, fled metro areas and moved online, whole office spaces found themselves empty. Office real estate workers continue to struggle leasing out their spaces to businesses, since so many employers now have a remote or hybrid work schedule. It is difficult to reach a conclusive stance on the pros and cons of remote work by reading the dozens of articles on the topic. Opinions vary so widely. Some praise the new shift towards remote work as a revolutionary step in the workforce. Others note that remote work is actually a step back to a pre-industrial domestic situation, when both

Doc Ock and His Sentient AI Arms

Could AI ever control the human mind?
It’s interesting that the Spider-Man universe (or multiverse, I guess) is studded with well-meaning villains. In my last movie review, we looked at Norman Osborn and his tragic transformation into the Green Goblin. What’s odd about his character is that he’s almost a father figure to Peter Parker throughout the film, offering support, guidance, wisdom. It’s the allure of a mysterious form of biotechnology and corporate pressure that sends him off the deep end. It isn’t so different with the iconic Dr. Octopus. An idealist set on inventing a new source of perpetual energy, Dr. Octavius is a friendly but ambitious scientist, who, like Osborn, takes Peter under his wing. The experiment to create a sustained fusion reaction, though, goes awry and would

The Crisis of Identity That Tech Doesn’t Help

Consumerism works well but leaves us empty
Writer and cultural commentator Aaron Renn wrote recently about the dissolution of identity in the United States, contending that if we don’t know who we are, we will never know what to do. Renn writes frequently on issues facing young men in America and the challenges of living well in the secular world. He writes, The reality is that a lot of people in top positions of our society act as if they want you living like Simba. They want porn available for you to watch. They want you betting on the big game on your phone. They want you focused on “experiences” and consumption, like hitting the latest hot travel destination or going to the new farm-to-table restaurant that just opened. They want you to define yourself as an atomized individual without much of an identity

Green Goblin, the Hasty Transhumanist

A classic Marvel villain presents a picture of hurried science gone wrong
“The product is certified ready for human testing.” I’m not quoting Elon Musk in relation to Neuralink. That’s the line from the fictional Norman Osborn in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie, starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and the green maniac himself, Willem Dafoe. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times, so maybe it’s due to the weird fact that twenty-plus years after this film hit the scene, we now live in a world where big science organizations like Osborn’s Oscorp seem to be dealing with similar conflicts that ultimately produced the iconic Green Goblin. Not that Elon Musk or Sam Altman are going to start flying around on saucers and terrorize New York City. But they are eager to rush new technologies down the pipeline. Are

David Foster Wallace: If Screens Are Your Main Media Diet, You’re Going to Die

The novelist warned about the pitfalls of the online life
“If we ate like this all the time, what would be wrong with that?” So asks David Foster Wallace, compellingly played by Jason Segel, in the 2015 film The End of the Tour. Wallace is in the car with a Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky, cramming down sweets from a gas station when he says that. After Lipsky quips back about obesity, Wallace says, “It has none of the substance of real food, but it’s real pleasurable.” The End of the Tour is set in 1996 shortly after Wallace’s gargantuan novel Infinite Jest hit the literary scene and impressed the nation with its length, wit, tragedy, and insight. A massive book about loneliness, Infinite Jest takes place in a semi-futuristic America where technology and entertainment have merged so fearfully

I Don’t Need an AI Refrigerator, but Thanks

We need to clarify what AI is good for and what it would only complicate
The AI hype seems to know no bounds. Is there any sphere of life the optimists will leave untouched? AI techies are coming for home appliances now, too, because it isn’t enough that our refrigerators store our food for us; we need them to refashioned top-down into AI bots that can spin out recipes for us. The main problem with this domestic infestation of AI is the simultaneous invasion of privacy, as noted in a recent Futurism article. Also, it’s just a hassle to keep up with. There’s no doubt there are certain things AI simplifies, like facial recognition on apps and generating an email via ChatGPT, but when I’m in the mood for a frozen burrito, there’s really only so much that computer mediation can do for me. These appliances were designed for a

Why Dune Might Be the Saddest Film I’ve Ever Seen

Are we saved through the love of power or the power of love?
If you’ve seen Dune Part 2 already, read on, but this commentary will include some spoilers, so beware for those who have yet to witness Denis Villeneuve’s visually stunning adaptation of the 1965 classic by Frank Herbert. I read Dune a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it, but J.R.R. Tolkien’s rumored distaste for the book soured some of my reception. Seeing the new films, though, illustrates why this story is so deeply tragic. Herbert drew much of his world and mythology from religion, and Dune is rich in religious allusion. Young Paul Atreides is the “Messiah” figure, and he “resurrects” after drinking the poison of the sandworm (a.k.a., the “Water of Life). There are fanatics in southern Arrakis ready to die for the prophesied

Who Needs Teaching Assistants? Bring In the Bots, Please

In defense of a human-led humanities
According to Philosophy Nous, the Dean at Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences suggested that a group of teaching assistants going on strike be replaced conveniently by artificial intelligence. It would be a much cheaper option while the TAs demand higher pay and benefits, and would, apparently, accomplish the same desired ends. The dean, Stan Sclaroff, is a computer scientist. Another article from the same publication makes a list of reasons why philosophers are declining across the country, and why philosophy and humanities departments are getting cut. Justin Weinberg writes, Skills taught at universities may increasingly thought of as unnecessary to learn because we can automate them. Search engines are ways of automating research, and now we have large

The Lord of the Flies and the Problem AI Can’t Solve

The problem of evil is spiritual and can't be solved by more technology
Somehow, I evaded The Lord of the Flies, the young adult dystopian novel by William Golding, while in high school, which is when many Americans encounter it. The ominous aura surrounding this little book always made me hesitant to pick it up. That’s now changed. The book arrested me this past week and had me almost panting by the end of it; this gorgeously written book about a group of schoolboys who crash on an island on the cusp of the third world war is as shimmering in detail as it is horrifying in its theme. The overly optimistic, including those who believe new technologies like artificial intelligence will drastically improve (and possibly even perfect) the human being and the human experience, might be vexed by The Lord of the Flies. The island these boys chance upon is