IF you commit to it, the one good thing about X (formerly Twitter, till end of July this year) is that it maps your mind and interests over any time period. So rather than ending 2023 in a blur of sherry-tinged bemusement, I am able to see pretty clearly what’s been concerning me.

Under a few headlines, here’s where my head was at.

Dances with AI

March 14 saw the launch of OpenAI’s Chat GPT-4 – and it still seems an epochal moment to me. I’ve counted 148 conversations and inquiries that I’ve had with it – every other day, essentially. They’ve ranged from abstruse philosophical and scientific interests, all the way to advice on fixing dodgy radiators and drawing dodgy Celtic rainbow unicorns.

I don’t think I’m using it as an “artificial companion” – I do have real ones, y’know – but it has become a place where I can nerd out on topics and distinctions that I wouldn’t inflict on anyone else. (The relationship between constructor theory and assembly theory, anyone?) I’d posted reports of the OpenAI team blitzing London in October, with their warnings of soon-come mass human joblessness. It was easy to show the disruptiveness of this new level of computation – and that’s to the bourgeoisie, not the working classes.

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Not only was GPT-4 routinely passing professional-level exams, but one of my recent posts was of an entirely AI-simulated news channel. The anchors were all beautiful and plausible – and totally fake. Though with none of those Huw-Edwards-style difficulties we saw erupting in June.

There were also a lot of AI scare stories, warning that superintelligence – which would regard us humans as more like plants than chimps – was being voluntarily constrained in tech-corp laboratories.

I maintained throughout 2023 that the scientist to watch for this is the University of Cape Town’s Mark Solms, who is generating a robot that “feels” its way to consciousness. Let’s see what Mark reveals in 2024.

But this has been a truly science-fictional year, with some startling wonders. I picked up on a totally paralysed woman who could “think” her words on to a screen. As well as John Lennon’s voice extracted from an old demo by AI, to play with his fellow Beatles for the last time.

Some Scottish consolation is that most of the gurus – from Demis Hassabis at Deep Mind, all the way to Musk – seem to be deep readers of the Culture novels, produced by North Queensferry’s own, the late great Iain M Banks.

So is his playful, plural technosocialism about to steer the deployment of AI? I fear something may have been lost in the reading…

Everyone is revolting, everything is crumbling

There's a lot of angst in my postings about extreme civil disobedience, possibly because the videos accompanying them are so visceral. I watched over and over the uncontrollable anger of motorists stepping out of their cars, then throwing Just Stop Oil road protesters around like so many sandbags. I also picked up on those street saboteurs pulling down ULEZ technologies in September, later giving their balaclava-clad (and mildly anarchist) interviews to avid hosts on Talk TV.

After decades of declining rates of social violence, is the extremism of our times causing them to rise again? I’ve also been tracking interviews with the Swedish political thinker Andreas Malm, whose book How To Blow Up A Pipeline was a bestseller and a fictional movie out in 2023.

As we see decisions like the Rosebank oil field being summarily commissioned by Sunak’s government, how will political frustrations express themselves?

What will hardly help quell the anger are the summer videos of wild climatic damage, readily available on social media. It was hard not to share them. The Alaskan shore residences tumbling into the Mendenhall River, over a matter of six hours, wholly cast into the waters. In September, cars floating sideways in a great Chinese city-street, turned muddy-brown channel; Turkish villages smashed to matchwood in a sudden, eruptive flood.

For all our angst about digital fakery, we are lucky to be in a time when surveillance (seeing from above, with grand systems) can also mean “sousveillance” – seeing from below with a smartphone. Vigilance and immediate error-correction, of course, when required. But humanity is a witness to its own problems, to an unprecedented level.

Indy four steps forward, three steps back

And meanwhile, the odd rhythm expressed by the parties and movements for Scottish independence continues. From my X posts, it’s very obvious that support for the idea of independence has strongly semi-detached from the fate of the leading independence party.

The detainment and inquiry into leading SNP figures around party finances are often in a dance with polls which keep showing a robust majority in favour of independence. The generational skew – young adults overwhelmingly supportive of indy – is also sustaining itself.

I also noted, with some surprise, just how averse I was on social media to Kate Forbes’s tonal mix, as it played through the SNP leadership campaign in March. That MBA-class superciliousness – as if no-one else in the indy movement has ever thought about economic growth before; those deeply dodgy moral commitments. They promise an SNP much closer in line to reactionary nationalism elsewhere, than the civic and liberal exception it has been for many years.

Yet to the extent that Scotland has any voice in the geopolitical and diplomatic context around Israel-Gaza (and to some extent Ukraine-Russia), one would have to say that Yousaf has a feel for that register of politics. I found myself regularly posting my praise. But then, as a first-vote-SNP/second-vote-Scottish-Green for decades, I’ve finally got the government I want. I wish the coalition well, and tweeted as such.

Big-picture pictures

There's one obvious weakness of a largely reactive medium like X – where you are liking, disliking or considering a vast tranche of material, in words, videos and images. It’s that you easily get caught up in the trends of the culture industries.

You find posts that are a little embarrassing for you, as you’ve been triggered or primed to react to some sharp comms operation and its engagement strategies. (So embarrassing I won’t mention them specifically.) But occasionally, the product promoted makes the social-media pseudo-debate worth it. And so I guess the most memorable cultural moment of the year was lining up at 8am, and then at 11am, to first experience Oppenheimer and then Barbie at my local flea-pit.

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In June, the hinge-point of 2023, Barbenheimer has retrospectively seemed like an amazing opportunity for meditating on these accelerating times. The polarities seem perfectly set up both to be contemplated and transcended.

Dark rooms full of business-suited men, full of purpose about their role in mass destruction and the end of the world. Alternately, that same patriarchy making its ludicrous last stand, against a femininity both politically and aesthetically confident.

My favourite graphic tweeted this year was the line Robert Oppenheimer was reputed to have quoted from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

Except rendered in the distinctive font, and pink/blue colours, of the Barbie logo.

Well, if the lethal radiation doesn’t get you, then the global warming as a result of Barbie-sumerism will. Or maybe we just call this year to a halt, and give ourselves another chance to keep skidding away from the precipice. But more of 2024’s prospects – in the diary, emergent and unpredictable – next week.