I think I did a bad thing. Having decided that Sarah Connor is the only logical role model for the times we live in, I pulled Terminator 2 up on our TV, and settled in. You know, for parenting tips. My youngest son came down to join me and immediately started poo-pooing the whole idea of mercenary cyborg killers intent on exterminating all human life.
As with any loving mother with a slight conspiratorial bend and a love of science fiction, this led to a discussion on the current state of artificial intelligence. ( excellent article on current AI debate here)
Again, the child was skeptical.
“You can’t program a computer to be able to do what you haven’t programed it to do!” He said, stating the obvious logic. Then I showed him the video of a computer teaching itself to navigate a virtual obstacle course.
Mind blown, as the kids used to say.
“But they wouldn’t hurt us… I mean, yeah, maybe take our jobs and that wouldn’t be good, but they wouldn’t kill us…”
“Unless a hostile government is developing their own AI,” I said distractedly, one eye on the movie.
“I can’t watch this,” he said, and headed up the stairs.
“Don’t worry!” I called helpfully at his retreating back, “It might not be robots! An asteroid might slam into the Earth…it’s happened before!”
Poor kid. I didn’t mean to add any more uncertainty to his life. God knows his generation has enough to worry about, with the government sanctioned racism, the climate changes, and the school shootings. Me, with my deep distrust of humans in general, finds a certain gallows humor to be quite helpful. My kids…? Not so much.
What I very much wish I could do is to promise him that everything is going to be all right. But that isn’t how life works, even in the very best of times. Life is a series of both heartbreaking losses and deep, deep joy. Even now, when I find myself winded by bad news nearly every day, I can still crack open a bottle of wine with my girlfriends and laugh until I remember why, at this age, kegels are more important than biceps curls.
Hubby and I may be morbidly fascinated by everything happening in the world these days, but I’m at a loss as to how to talk to my kids about it. I’m constantly torn between protecting my children and preparing them for what may lie ahead. It’s a thin line I’m treading; I’d like them to be knowledgable and resourceful and resilient…but maybe not quite the pessimistic doomsday prepper their mother is in danger of becoming. Of course, this might be yet another example of Things I Don’t Need to Worry About.
I mean, how do you even hide bad news from kids anymore? The internet is on, everywhere, all of the time. At this point, if I, through the miracle of parental controls, banish them from electronics, they don’t even get upset. They just give me a cheery wave and head over to a friend’s house or a coffee shop or the library. (Which, not for nothing, is an excellent way for frazzled moms to get a little peace and quiet.) So everything I know, they know. They’ve just decided its less interesting than the on-again, off-again Cardi B and Offset romance, or the latest funny cat video. (Oops. Nope. That’s me.)
My kids aren’t dummies. Despite being confronted with global problems on a daily basis, they are cheerful and forward thinking. And they know how to pull together in tough times. Since I began this essay, that same son needed an emergency appendectomy. Immediately, he was surrounded by tons of love and support for all sorts of folks; his friends and my friends and all our family. It was the largest, virtual group hug he’d experienced up to that point, so chalk up one point for the internet. He and his siblings have a group chat (Which is absolutely one of my very most favorite facts and makes me think that hubby and I did a damn fine job with these kids…periodic appearances to the contrary, notwithstanding.) and the dang notifications didn’t stop chiming for three days. Everybody wanted to let him know how much they were pulling for him. I mean…how awesome is that?
Not to sound like a big, mushy dope, but that love and support is exactly where we get our strength in trying times. Probably the only lesson I need to pass on to prepare them is to come together when life seems tough. Stick together and share all of it– the disappointments and the joy.
And the rise of the robots. They’re coming, y’all.