On October 1, at the Certosa di San Giacomo in Capri, Benjamin Labatut received the Malaparte Prize, one of the most important Italian literary awards for international figures, now in its twenty-sixth edition. Labatut was born in the Netherlands but obtained Chilean citizenship, and was selected by the jury for When we stopped understanding the world (Adelphi), translated by Lisa Tobey, L idiot (Adelphi Again), the latter was released in Italy in conjunction with the awarding of the Prize, curated by Gabriella Bontempo and supported by the Ferrarelle Società Benefit.
The common thread that unites the two works, both on the border between the history of science and narrative, is that, to paraphrase the title of Goya’s most famous engraving, not only sleep, but also the dream of the mind generates monsters. In other words: the most terrifying and dangerous monsters, the real monsters, are not those created by imagination, but those produced by modern science.
“What we are creating is a monster whose impact will change the course of history, as long as the story continues!” John von Neumann (1903-1957), hero of the novel idiot, about the atomic bomb. “But – adds the mathematician of Hungarian origins, nicknamed the “evil genius” – it will be impossible not to move forward. Not only for military reasons, but also because it would be unethical, from a scientific point of view, not to do what we know we are capable of doing, no matter how dire the consequences. And this is just the beginning!
Go all the way. At any price. Beyond good and evil. This is the original sin of modern science that Labatut denounces, making it both divine and demonic at the same time. “With the invention of the atomic bomb, physicists learned about sin, a knowledge they could no longer lose,” we read again in idiot. This time it is said by Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), celebrated by Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster film. “If we physicists have already discovered sin, we have discovered the curse with the hydrogen bomb.” To make matters worse, it’s always there idiotRichard Feynman (1918-1988), for whom the hydrogen bomb “was not just a bigger bomb, but a real horror, something that could not be justified in any way, an absolute evil, a weapon very far from plausibility and rationality.” “It was as if we had voluntarily pushed ourselves into the darkest periods of hell.”
there Arrogance And the consequent “condemnation” of physicists and mathematicians When we stopped understanding the world Before and from idiot So it is the same as Marlowe’s Faust, or even more so, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is not by chance cited in both books. Like Shelley, Labatut intends to warn us “against the blind advancement of science, the most dangerous of all human arts.”
Speaking of the risks associated with scientific and technological progress, it is not surprising that the last part of idiot, translated by Norman Gobbetti, is dedicated to a topic of exceptional importance: artificial intelligence (AI), which, according to Labatut, points us toward a future that “inspires both hope and awe: some believe we should welcome it with open arms, while many believe we should “With open arms.” Others are convinced that we must do everything we can to ensure that this crazy dream remains out of our reach, forever out of reach.
If it’s at the end of the world Termination By James Cameron The point of no return is the creation of Skynet. For Labatut, “when future historians look back at our time trying to identify the first glimmer of true artificial intelligence,” they will be able to find it in a very specific move made during a match of Go, which took place in March 10, 2016, between champion Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. This is the 37th step, through which, according to the Chilean writer, the two players – human and non-human – were able to “push beyond the limits of going, creating a new and terrible beauty, a logic stronger than reason, the repercussions of which will reach far and wide.”
But this is just one of the fascinating and disturbing stories told by Labatut in his two “works of fiction based on true events,” as he himself defines them, which manage to transfer the best of the Gothic novel into a new hybrid genre.
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