Jul 1, 2023 - Technology

Aspen postcard: A Gonzo dispatch from the near future

A daily morning yoga class at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: John Frank/Axios

A daily morning yoga class at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado. Photo: John Frank/Axios

Imagine this: Democracy is decimated, eaten by locusts of misinformation created by artificial intelligence. Robots didn't simply take our jobs; they conquered our minds. And the wealthiest made money on it all.

Why it matters: Experts at this year's Aspen Ideas Festival saw that scenario not as apocalyptic fiction, but rather a thoroughly possible, maybe even probable future.

State of play: The annual week-long festival brings together world's smartest minds to discuss the most intractable problems — the rich and famous with disruptors trying to overthrow the rich and famous.

  • It sets the zeitgeist for American cultural thought with its deep reflections and contradictions.

What they're saying: Artificial intelligence may allow us to talk to animals, but it will lead to a post-fact 2024 campaign.

  • We need to democratize wealth — or maybe economic inequality is "a myth."
  • Attendees carried designer bags with the slogan "help feed the children of the world" and attended a discussion on nutrition inequality while sipping "ultra premium, cold pressed juice" flown in from Los Angeles.

Between the lines: The event on a riverside mountain campus, where the buildings and even the urinals are sponsored by a wealthy donors, features no shortage of star power.

  • Actress Emma Watson turned celebrated PhDs into gapers as she visited the Zen Den showing live cameras of animals in the wild.
  • Trillion-dollar money manager Larry Fink stuck his foot in his mouth, while Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi appeared as a prophet.

Of note: This year featured an entire track on happiness, where the speakers discussed how to channel ancient spirituality to overcome the present day perils.

  • You even could ride an exercise bike that spins a blender to make your own Danone smoothie, feeling like you’re saving the world and being healthy at the same time.

💭 John's thought bubble: In the end, the event is simultaneously terrifying and edifying, a smoothie of cynicism and optimism that makes you return next — and I can’t wait to see what’s on the menu next year.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to delete an incorrect reference to Jeff Bezos appearing on the sidelines of the Aspen festival. Organizers say he did not.

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