Taking the example of a book index, we can follow its ‘purpose’ toward what this has always been ― ending with the purpose of purpose itself.
The book index is an example. One can do the same exercise in many other domains.
A paper book index is a list of terms.
The more realistic purpose of such an index has always been a conceptual search (using synonyms and relations) within the book. With a search on mere terms, one misses much relevant information.
An even more profound purpose has always been to find the information as efficiently as possible. A dialogue may be more suited to this than a mere index, even if a conceptual one. At present, we are entering an era in which – mainly through a revolution in transformer technology (or LLM, if you like) – an index-like search may be superseded by a flexible dialogue with which to find the information.
Is this the end of the line of what has always been the purpose?
Well, we want information indeed. But in most cases, we want the most relevant information.
In other words, we don’t want just a dialogue but a well-informed, knowledgeable one. We want a conversation with a truly intelligent system that provides direct access to qualitative knowledge.
This is not new. It has always been the purpose. If possible, people just went to a knowledgeable/wise person.
Books have always been a substitute for such a person.
Also, the internet as we know it today has always been a substitute.
Of course, books and the internet have specific advantages over the wise person. For instance, the internet is always available to many, and its knowledge source is broader.
At each stage, the new technology should not be a surface-level straightforward replacement of the old.
In many cases, it is too lightly looked upon as such at first, as if the new can only replace the old. This leads to discrepancies between promise and reality and an unnecessary delay for proper widespread adoption of the latest technology.
The rule of thumb advice one can see in this is to not treat a new technology as a replacement for the old but to look for what may be the deeper purpose beneath both ― therefore, what has always been the purpose. This engenders less resistance to change since there is none in-depth ― only growth from there. One can denote this as ‘being responsive.’
On the other hand, we should not close our eyes to real replacement issues. The downside is a lot of unnecessary human suffering by putting people in inhumane roles, as has happened so frequently ― replacing people by machines or treating them as machines themselves (now arguably as much as ever).
What has always been the final purpose is something seemingly magical.
This becomes possible through A.I.: an omnipresent omni-knowing oracle available as a personal assistant. Let it relate in a human-like fashion and a human-like appearance whenever you want, and you have your private wisenut.
We can go now for what has always been the total person’s purpose. This is, to attain one’s meaningful potential. Knowledge and wisdom may aid in this. Meanwhile, we should not be blind to the possible downside of even this revolution. A relentless striving for meaningfulness may show that it is not to be found where people have mostly been looking for it in the past.
And that is as it should be, but if this quest gets replaced by something more powerful that is supposed to bring meaning from the outside (again), many may suffer from a brutal hit.
What has always been the purpose is the purpose itself.
This demands some deep thinking at a societal level — the more so since the concern is global.
Is the search for purpose a huge positive factor by itself with its ups and downs? May the bumps in the road eventually be part of what we crave? Do we need dissatisfaction in order to experience true satisfaction?
If we finally get for free what we want, might we deeply miss the wanting?
Are these luxury questions?
I don’t think so. But they can be solved ― if only from the inside out. In other words, this is not a simple gift that one can get on a plate.
It’s an invitation.
What has always been at stake – for instance, in search of information – is the purposeful response to this invitation.