Croatian Book Night 2023: Humans better read – because robots already do!
Opened on 21 April 2023 at the National and University Library in Zagreb (NSK), the three-day 12th edition of Croatian Book Night, Croatia’s annual national programme marking World Book and Copyright Day (23 April) and Croatian Book Day (22 April), successfully spotlighted issues related to the rise of artificial intelligence through nearly 1,200 events. Held in 254 cities and other locations all across Croatia, the 2023 Croatian Book Night included the participation of 155 public libraries, almost 100 bookstores, antiquarian bookshops and publishing companies and 330 different institutions, ranging from schools and kindergartens, through museums and universities, to senior citizen’s homes and hospitals.
Apart from exploring issues related to the advance of AI and its impact on books and reading, the 2023 Croatian Book Night highlighted various anniversaries associated with major Croatian writers – Marija Jurić Zagorka, Dinko Šimunović, Antun Gustav Matoš, Miljenko Smoje and Miroslav Krleža.
The programme was opened by the Director General of the National and University Library in Zagreb Dr Ivanka Stričević, after which followed the addresses by the Member of the Board of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of the Croatian Chamber of Economy Mišo Nejašmić, Head of the Service for Scientific Infrastructure and Technological Development of the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education Amalija Babić and Envoy of the Croatian Minister of Culture and Media and State Secretary Dr Ivica Poljičak.
Tamara Kraus, from the Kvaka market research agency, presented the results of the latest survey of Croatia’s book market, conducted in March 2023, and the Vice-President of the Croatian Association of School Librarians Vanja Jurilj announced the winners of this Night’s competition as part of which primary and secondary-school students from all parts of Croatia expressed their views about opportunities and challenges associated with artificial intelligence’s growing presence in our lives. Along with the presentation of the competition’s award-winning works, the programme included an exhibition featuring inspiring and thought-provoking illustrations by Josip Sršen and Sebastijan Čamagajevac.
Also participating in the programme of the opening were Vanja Štalec-Obradović, from the Zagreb City Libraries public library network, Director of iDEMO Institute for Democracy Simona Goldstein, artist Goran Matović, whose sketch included a musical performance by cellist Stanko Kovačić, and actor Igor Baksa, who impersonated Ge-Pe-To, a robot surprisingly well aware of the power of books and reading.
Maintaining the tradition of organising various humanitarian initiatives, Croatian Book Night 2023 – together with Croatian Ministry of Culture and Media, the TOZ Penkala office supplies manufacturer, the Naša djeca publishing company, Croatian Red Cross, Croatia’s public library network and many volunteers – continues to support the efforts of iDEMO Institute for Democracy aimed at providing Ukrainian refugees with publications in their own language by making available the titles of Ukrainian publishers in Croatian public libraries. Also, all profit from the sale of the Night’s promotional T-shirts will be donated to Split-based Udruga MoSt association.
Observing efforts to develop artificial intelligence by feeding it with human qualities, we feel anxious about what (or who) exactly we are going to create and ask ourselves whether in this process we can lose something essential, as a civilisation. With fascinating daily examples of how artificial intelligence may be used for solutions to many problems of the contemporary world and in the development of many useful products, services and systems, the following questions arise: May AI be useful when it comes to books and reading? Are we neglecting our own intellectual resources – and that with possibly disastrous consequences – in increasingly relying on AI-based solutions? Will AI at some point be able to completely replace humans? May a machine become a skilled author? If yes, what would that mean for art, especially literature? What are the implications of the advance of AI from the psychological and linguistic perspectives?
Literature has been offering answers to these questions for decades, through the science fiction genre, especially dystopian fiction, whose works heralded artificial intelligence as early as 1872 (in Erewhon, by Samuel Butler), which in 1920 endowed the world with the term robot (in R.U.R., by Karel Čapek) and which first articulated possible threats to humankind by robots too similar to humans on the one hand and dissatisfied with their status in the human world on the other. Considering the significance of artificial intelligence as the foundation of the fourth industrial revolution, our ability to rise to the philosophical and ethical challenges posed by its growth will obviously have a decisive impact on the fate of humankind.
The organisers of the Croatian Book Night programme are the Publishers and Booksellers Association of the Croatian Chamber of Economy, National and University Library in Zagreb, Zagreb City Libraries, books-and-culture-oriented web portal Moderna vremena, Publishers’ Reprographic Rights Association – ZANA (Udruga za zaštitu prava nakladnika), Knjižni blok – Inicijativa za knjigu pro-book association and the Croatian Association of School Librarians, and it is supported by the Croatian Ministry of Culture and Media, Publishers’ Reprographic Rights Association – ZANA (Udruga za zaštitu prava nakladnika), City of Zagreb, Croatian Chamber of Economy and Zagreb Tourist Board.
The partner of Croatian Book Night 2023 was the TOZ Penkala office supplies manufacturer, while its media sponsors were the Croatian Radio Television, 24sata and Express dailies and VidaTV television channel. The Night’s 2023 visual identity was created by graphic designer Boris Kuk.
The opening of the 2023 Croatian Book Night, Croatia’s major annual national programme marking World Book and Copyright Day and Croatian Book Day (22 April). National and University Library in Zagreb, 21 April 2023. Photo by: Mirna Bartolić.