Just came across the poem All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Richard Brautigan (via the Adam Curtis documentary of the same name.)

It’s kind of fascinating. I like it.Β  I know it came from a period whose technological utopianism certainly didn’t come to pass, and might have been a bit off-key in the first place, but its sweetly optimistic (…or bitingly critical, depending on what way you squint at it).

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

If it were written today it must surely be ironic. But I wonder if it was heartfelt back in the 60s? I find what it paints to be kind of a mixture of pleasantly bucolic and desireable, and weird and creepy all at once. Not sure if I want it or not. I like the idea of a cybernetic ecology, where we are free of our labours, and joined back to nature. Not entirely so keen on being watched over by machines of loving grace. (Though the benevolent AIs in Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels could be good role models if we did want machines of loving grace…)

It’s interesting that the poem doesn’t really make a case for technology, other than the nod towards a kind of fully automated luxury communism at the end. It just sort of assumes that tech is the route to liberation – I guess that’s the flavour of the time. I’m not a primitivist, but I’m not sure that an IoT meadow will have all that much better benefit than the analogue equivalent.

 

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