The Hollow Horse

A rough drawing of a Trojan horse with scenes battle and fleeing around it.
Design for an Engraving; Battle of Troy with the Trojan Horse by Hubert-François Gravelot

A reflection on generative AI

It was a magnificent monstrosity. A horse made of a dark and polished wood gleaming in the sun, looming large above us. Its bridle and saddle were bedecked in accents of silver and gold, its eyes an intricate collection of gleaming jewels. It was, to the city, a glorious achievement of craftsmanship, genius, and intellect.

And the pitchman stood before the gates with his bonded smile. "You can call me Sin," he said, "And oh do I have a deal for you!" And the old men of the city came, seated on cushioned litters borne on the bare and broken backs of the populace. They loved Sin, loved his words and his promises. He glittered like the horse's eyes and they did so love the spectacle.

Sin played his little tune, a sales pitch for the old men, the empty, and the lost. He played to their vanity but also their fear. A fear that had buried itself deep into their hearts and souls. A fear that whispered in their ears, a constant refrain, "Everyone else is just like you."

Sin loved their fear. It made the sale so much easier. The horse was safe or so Sin said. Only Sin could make it safe. After all, it was a product of the city crafted from the shared wealth of its people. It had to be cleaned and processed by Sin. Here it was, crafted into an idol, now presented as a tool for power and control. And the sky grew dark, and the lightning struck, two bolts like serpents to the ground. People screamed and scattered. The old men gasped and hid their faces.

"There is nothing it cannot do!" Sin bellowed, a barker in the midst of his own carnival.

The people cried out. The old men hastily agreed: a king's ransom for the horse which was quickly pulled inside. There were naysayers, of course. Ol' Cap, his hands stained with dirt and ink, tried to tell them it was all a trick. It did no good. The believers were convinced. The old men were afraid. They laughed at his disbelief and cursed him for his ignorance. Sin said nothing, his smile growing wider.

Oh, the celebration that commenced when the horse was finally in its place. It was a new age, they said. Speeches were given. Supposedly wise and learned people came from every corner to take their share of the spotlight. The city was saved. The horse was everywhere. The old men celebrated their wisdom and genius. The believers danced around the horse, enamored by possibility.

But possibility does not feed the hungry nor cure the sick. A hollow horse helps nothing. Time ticked on. Sin left, his pockets full of the last remnant of a dying city's treasury. The horse remained. It took too long for the people to realize that there was nothing inside. The horse was an empty shell, and those who worshiped it grew emptier, still. The city would fall, new Troy like old Troy. Unlike, old Troy, however, there were no enemies outside the gates. Our only enemies were ourselves. Our murderer, our own transparent vanity.



In the Deluge of the Slush Pile