Blog Post #2 RJ Howey

Computers will destroy the world.  They are evil, horrible pieces of equipment that will either kill you, make you kill yourself, make your friends kill you, make your microwave kill you, make your dishwasher kill you, or somehow use wifi to make your flashlight kill you.  I get it.  They are horrible.  Thank you science fiction for showing us how we are all either plugged into the Matrix or going to be hunted down by T-1000’s at some point in the future.  This was my main problem with “Press Enter.”  It was a good story, for the most part.  I enjoy a good murder-mystery.  But why are machines always evil and wish to do us harm or are the tools of people who are evil and want to do us harm? 

There is always this idea that new technology is evil, and somehow, humanity will build something that is remorseless and will kill us or subjugate us.  It is the main plot of countless science fiction books, television shows and movies.  The only theme that is more common is that of space aliens, and even then there is usually some form of technology that is “random” and chaotic and one that is an “elegant weapon, for a more civilized age” (Star Wars, Episode IV).  Computers and technology are only as good as we can program them to be.  Lisa Foo herself pointed out the gaping plot hole in all of these science fiction stories.  When asked by Victor if computers would ever take over the world, she responds with: why should they care?  It’s a good question, and raises some other good questions.  In every one of these stories, the artificial intelligence that rises up against the humans is incredibly smart and well-motivated in its goals.  What if the computer isn’t, really, all that smart?  What if it doesn’t care about taking over?  Lisa said that computers were essentially stupid, and that they needed to be used as tools if anything harmful was going to be done by them.  This is a more understandable idea, but even then, it’s not like there would be no resistance to an uprising.  But if every single person that can use magic and wields an “elegant weapon” can be killed by chaotic, random weapons, then your civilization was probably doomed from the start.

The idea of technology destroying us is not a new one.  The generation of stone-axe users probably was mighty upset when their children discovered bronze, and probably though it would destroy the world.  But it didn’t.  People have been suspicious of technology for forever, and it has yet to destroy us, despite what the 1950’s and McCarthyism would have led you to believe.  Technology probably won’t be our eternal saviors, as some people like to think, but it won’ be the doom of us all, either.  It’s just a tool to be used, for good or for bad.

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3 Responses to Blog Post #2 RJ Howey

  1. This is a great segue into Beth Coleman’s “What is an Avatar?” for a couple of reasons. Coleman is much more positive about participatory media like video games than some of the other authors we’ve read so far (Turkle in particular). Her argument in the chapter we’ll discuss on Thursday is that these media can enhance (not replace) face-to-face interactions. So I think she does a better job of steering a middle course between technophobia and technophilia. But I’m pretty sure she’d disagree with your last statement about tools. Don’t you think our tools shape us and our practices, even as we’re using them? Not that I’m saying that I think my microwave is re-programming me as I wait for it to heat up my coffee . . . or maybe I am . . .

  2. yojeffg says:

    You raise many great points in your blog post. There are a few thoughts I have on technology always being portrayed as evil. First, these computers and technological inventions would only be evil if they are made evil by the people. At that point it would be humanities own fault for making robots that can take over the world. Malicious robots aren’t outside the realm of comprehension, as one basically just needs to give thought process or critical thinking to a missile that can guide itself.
    I was fortunate enough to take a colloquia last spring in Cosmology and one of the theories discussed was Fermi’s Paradox. Fermi’s Paradox is the contradiction between all the chances and high probabilities of aliens existing, but a lack of any evidence that they exist. One theory advocates that the earth is simply a planet that is being observed by aliens for research. Another theory is that aliens have observed earth, seen its destructive potential, and basically quarantined it from the rest of the universe. The one theory that our professor advocated for was that advanced civilizations will become advanced enough to destroy themselves, but not advanced enough to explore the universe deep enough. He related to how today there are weapons that exist that could destroy the world and with the number of countries fighting with each other that have similar powers the earth could end because humans blow it up.
    I too was surprised by Lisa Foo’s point that computers may in fact be stupid and have no intentions whatsoever in taking over the world. One of the books that I was surprised didn’t get brought up in our last class discussion was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. (The book was made in to the movie Blade Runner, which stars Harrison Ford) In the book humans have had to move to colonies off Earth to avoid the nuclear fallout. Robots are made that are made up of organic materials and the only way to test if they are machines is through an “empathy” test or by analyzing their bone marrow. They are “retired” after four years of manual work outside and in space for jobs that are too dangerous for humans. After 4 years the models become dangerous and basically understand what it means to be human. Perhaps domination of others is a natural human response and people secretly fear that machines will have this same passion. A humanistic side of the machine, I believe, would be necessary for them to want to take over the world.
    One of the most common elements in sci-fi and dystopian movies is that something is out of control. Humans are unique in that our use of tools far exceeds physical abilities and it is possibly a fear throughout time and space that one day the tools will surpass humans and essentially decide that they are better and try to take over.

  3. Or is the theme of being out of control related to fears about change? Given that technological change is often the most visible, it’s no wonder that it features so prominently in dystopian visions. Perhaps less sexy and dramatic to blame the apocalypse on poor planning or human judgment.

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