The other day, my son Nehemiah started telling me about the jeromes.
“They fly up in the sky,” he said, his eyes following clouds of imaginary flying objects. “I saw a jerome at the pawk today!”
He stopped to catch his breath and regain his balance, for all the wonder he was revealing to me was so great that it would take the Holy Spirit of God to fully incorporate the dread mystery. “And, and, and!,” he said, almost unconscious at this point “they have spinny things on them and they go up and up!”
“Ah, yes. Jeromes?” I said, and he nodded excitedly, and since it is my habit to be an asshole to my kids, I corrected him: “They’re called drones.”
“Yeah!” –Not missing a beat (but missing several breathing rhythms)– “And jeromes can go so fast, and you can fly them with a wemote contwol!”
Not to be outdone, I made the whole thing into a lesson in current events, “You know, drones—d-r-o-n-e-s–actually don’t need a remote control to fly. They fly autonomously.”
His whole face opened, the way the sky opens after a storm to reveal the fierce heat of the sun. His face said something like: Holy God what does automonomonly mean and where can I get it?
Then I continued on my parental know-it-all screed to explain to him about Amazon delivering packages with these things, how people record videos of whole cities with them, have them follow birds around, spy on people-of-interest, etc., until his entire imagination was just nothing but jeromes against the clear blue sky of the future.
Then I realized: my childhood has no corollary to this. The closest I ever got to this sort of wonder was that teaser at the end of Back to the Future 1, when Doc Brown tore through the sky in his hovering Delorian and literally flux capacitated my brain.
If bad CGI can set my soul on fire like that, then what will happen to the generation that witnesses the rise of AI?
For Nehemiah, HIS ACTUAL FUTURE IS FLYING MACHINES AND TALKING ROBOTS. There’s a good chance that he’ll have a helper drone swoop in from the trees to play music when he proposes to his lover. And that he’ll thank a tutoring cyborg for “Always believing in me and not just because he’s programmed to” at his valedictorian speech.
How in the world do Georgie and I train him and his sister for that sort of world?