Experts say you should talk to your kids about sex, about drugs, about driving like you’re being chased by the Terminator when your mother asks you to go to the corner for a bottle of milk.  They say that, parenting-wise, talking is a good thing.  It expands the vocabulary, expanding understanding and growing that big old hominid brain.

But what about the end of the world?  Is the Apocalypse, whether it arrives tomorrow  in an explosive nanosecond or rolls over decades in an insidious wave, the last forbidden topic?  Should we talk to our kids about The End?

I remember, years ago, watching the news with my six year old son in my lap when we were dutifully informed that the Russians were dumping old nuclear submarines into the depths of the sea.  Each one contained enough radioactive isotopes to kill us everyone on the plant many times over, once it was released to the natural environment.  And, in time, the piece assured viewers, it would be released to the environment.

Oh, well.  And now for a word from our sponsors…

My son looked up from his comfortable place on my lap.  Even his six year old brain could deduce that his formerly infinite future had just been significantly reduced.

Now my kids are older but news of Armageddon just keeps on coming.  The newest endings, just like the old, are man-made.  Now we hear from the nethermost regions of Silicon Valley that within thirty years computers will be million of times smarter than we are and there will be a predictable result; machines will be calling the tune, and we will be doing the dancing.

But who is this “we”?  It turns out that computers will rule because we will become them.  Organ by organ, limb by limb, beginning with that bum knee you’ve been whining about for years and ending with a quick stop in the neuroshop to pick up a replacement cerebellum, we will surrender the flesh that long has been the source of so much passion and travail. By 2032, one eminent futurologist just proclaimed, human life will be indefinite. Turns out that we will not allow ourselves to be ruled by machines.  Instead, we will become machines.

I, for one, would consider that a bummer.  So much joy is derived from a walk by the shore, from lifting up a child and seeing his thrilled smile against the backdrop of a blue sky, from a tall glass of orange juice consumed after a hard run, from those private pleasures that have motivated all manner of mischief, madness and merriment over the ages, that, for now at least, mortality does not seem such a bad deal.  I wonder if those who envision a monstrous future are those who likewise gain less from the present, who are already, in their insensate gliding through the kaleidoscopic scenes of this earth, half machine.  Is it the half-dead who most lust after eternal life? Is that both the source and destination of the current zombie craze?

The advancement of artificial intelligence, or AI, brings into sharp distinction the natural and the synthetic; it forces us to define what “life” is, and to wonder if a machine of sufficient complexity would deserve to be described as alive.  Is life a matter of complex thought, or biological vitality, or a necessary combination of the two?

Carlos Castenada once wrote a book called “The Art of Dreaming” in which he explored the mysteries of “inorganic life.”  Is it only our human parochialism that prevents us from seeing the vitality in that which we would normally describe as inert?

Or is this how the end comes, with humanity willingly signing its soul over to the devil in return for a false promise of eternal half-life?

And, as they say, the end is not far.  By 2030 some enterprising nethead will have devised a “self-replicating machine” that will no longer require the support or guidance of fleshy mortals.  Then we will have to let go of what computer theoretician Martin Minsky calls our “mind children” just as a parent of today waves goodbye to an offspring who departs for college or the service.  But will these mind children be forwarding the lineage of humanity?  Will the earth itself rejoice or rebel at being ruled by intelligent machines?

When I recently began reporting tales of mechanical doom to my children others started yelling at me.  What kind of father was I to be saying such things?  How can I expect my children to grow up and develop into solid citizens when they’re hearing about the end of the world from their own father?

If 2030 is in fact AI Day then today’s fathers may be, in the historical sense, the race’s last.  Maybe it is foolish to try to talk to people about it before they have a chance to change it.

Or maybe we should just take a time out, go for a walk in the woods, and think about why we are here in the first place.