The End Is Near

We have reached a point where we have never been closer to humanisation! Of all people, it is a cultural scientist and zeitgeist researcher who says so. Kristine Fratz takes an optimistic glance at artificial intelligence and the next generation.

The Austrian conference of bishops and the Swiss Free Church are some of your customers, right next to Gucci perfumes and Beiersdorf. What sparks the clergy’s interest in temporary trends?
As a zeitgeist researcher I get asked to think about how zeitgeist resonates within God’s message. That is a huge, a very huge topic. And it is important to me to clarify what zeitgeist is not. It is not about values, eternity or stability! Instead zeitgeist offers opportunities and that over and over again. Together with a theological seminary in Switzerland we are currently thinking about a seminar unit for students that would playfully explore the relational dimension between ‘zeitgeist and the Holy Spirit.’

Sounds pretty unusual at first…
The professor of theology who approached me is aware of how bold that is.

So where could contemporary zeitgeist and the Holy Spirit come ‘to play’ for example?
As a zeitgeist researcher, I am interested in society’s desires, in where we are heading next. Secularised individuals have issues as well. To be able to offer them something that is not connected to zeitgeist but has eternal value instead is a big opportunity. The statement “God loves you just like you are” has no competition. Especially in times of self-optimisation and hyper-individualisation.  It is important to preserve “that which exists in altitude”, as the Catholics say. And with that I mean the message itself.

But we are getting entirely different signals at the moment, are we not?
Today we are more convinced by the idea that the end is near. Believing that artificial intelligence is stealing all our jobs for example.

AI's FINEST, 2015

Is it near, the end? Do you share such gloomy feelings?
There is a very interesting and positive side to this development. Especially when you pay close attention to AI… But with every new thing that zeitgeist brings into this world a new wave of fear hits the majority of all people.

Because people are generally scared…
of change.“If AI is doing everything, who will be able to find a job anymore? Big misery lays ahead!” Of course, a lot of things might become redundant because of AI, things that will confuse us and our lives entirely. But what no one thinks about is the fact that zeitgeist is moving in a circle.

Zeitgeist moving in circles? What does that mean?
It does not move straight towards a certain thing, it goes for a spin and no one knows how long that spin is going to last, but the first reaction, the estrangement, lastly leads to a new modified way of approximation.

Because AI could first and foremost take over boring tasks and through that give us more time for our children, friends or binge-watching for example?
Yes, and then it would not only free us from those jobs, but AI could also help us challenge deeply-rooted human concepts such as moral, failure or anxiety in a completely new way.

How? Is that a vision which sees AI as an opportunity?
At first, we understand this new development as an estrangement from us, but it could mean a renewed way of approaching ourselves on the long run.

And you can see signs of that already?
Yes, let us take a look at the current high-end developer in that area for example, they are not only thinking about efficiency enhancement anymore. They are really determined to create a copy of a human being. And if you want to create a copy of something you have to pay really close attention to the original. From a historical point of view, we have the chance to rethink being human right now, in the meaning of what is human and less, what human should be.

Has it been about an ideal until now?
Poets, thinkers, religion, political ideas, pedagogics, yes even ideas about love have all came up with possible ideals of being human in our culture and we more or less strive after those. Within attempts of creating a technological copy of us human beings the pure essence of our human thinking and being becomes the focus of research. That is a new chance for malleability. I do not want to diminish the danger and risks that come with the abuse of these possibilities, but that is not the focus of my thinking right now.


And when we have come full circle: Could a robot have better morals than us?
Yes of course. It is not difficult at all to have better morals than we do.

And could we build real relationships with AI?
Why not? If I imagine waking up in the middle of the night and my head spinning – and then I find an AI sitting in my kitchen asking me: “Well Kirstine, what is going on?” and I would reply, “mmmh, I don’t know,” and then it would say, “come and sit down and let me explain to you why you are feeling like this and also what you have done lately that has led to you feeling like this and then we will see.” I would be thankful to be viewed by a neuronal network that is a proven expert on my being.

But that surely could not replace a relationship between living real human beings?
You do not think? How many dysfunctional interpersonal relationships can you think of? We still have a lot to learn when it comes to social interactions. Maybe AI will lead us to new ways of encounter, empathy, understanding and being human. It could be AI that reminds us what real interest for one another is like.

Even imagining a car with no one sitting behind the wheel is scary for us at the moment. Also, because we tend to think of ourselves as superior, unique and irreplaceable. Are we irreplaceable?
Well maybe. But different. Maybe all of this will give us the space and time to discover the divine in ourselves. Or maybe we will learn to be more empathic to the human experience in general! Maybe the eternal battleground that the woman/man topic stands on will disappear, because suddenly being stands in the spotlight, talent, abilities and not the gender. All of that falls under zeitgeist’s power of creation.

You have an 11-year-old daughter. Do you see any signs of the next generation’s progression with her?
I do see an increase in self-confidence with my daughter as well as with other girls, young women and young men. They are all about expression, about their potential and their development. They want to find out who they are and what they have to offer to the world. While trying to stay as unbiased as possible – free from other people’s expectations – they try to find the answer to the question: Who am I? At the moment my daughter wants to become the next pope.

Kirstine Fratz discovered a fondness for thinking of things that no one else had thought of before, when she was just a teenager. As a zeitgeist researcher, cultural scientist and ethnologist, she decodes trends, desires and promises about happiness. She mainly concerns herself with the dynamic behind zeitgeist, the power it has about us, the question of why we are following it, what it promises us and what it does not. Her research focuses on how zeitgeist influences our thinking, acting and feelings, how it changes believes, which we considered to be stable, and how it pushes our complex world into yet another direction again and again.  She has spent more than ten years working in different disciplines and for different projects and companies. She advises luxurious beauty brands, teaches at schools, lectures to politicians, at the Austrian conference of bishops, to the Swiss Free Church, writes (‘Das Buch vom Zeitgeist. Und wie er uns vorantreibt’) and works in the human brand agency ‘Finally New Goals’ with players, coaches and decision makers in European professional football.

Susanne Opalka
George Bengalski
Armin Morbach
Mai 29, 2019
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