rise of the machines
[and a lot of hard questions]
The promise of technology prior to the industrial and technological revolutions was a higher standard of living along with more freedom and independence…machines and robots would do all the things humans found repetitive and distasteful. We would all be afforded a utopian life.
Instead, here it is argued that technology is invading our privacy and dehumanizing us. We are becoming hostages to it. It is not improving the quality of our lives, it is turning us into slaves. Rather than more freedom and independence, the robot took someone’s job, the computer made your life amazingly complex, and the cell phone you carry everywhere you go has you on call 24/7.
The realities of the deployment of technology have not met our future expectations.
The reason for every technological development was to make something better, faster, easier, or more affordable. Necessity, the mother of invention. It’s hard to believe any of those motivations could have negative consequences. The wheel made a lot of things easier, faster, and cheaper. Few would argue about the utility of the wheel; that it reduced anyone’s standard of living or that it turned anyone into or a slave. Today, being able to buy goods and have them delivered to our doors with the click of a button seems to benefit everyone. There aren’t many complaints about air conditioning and heating. Certainly, technology has merits. Along with those merits however, are a host of negative consequences.
Technology involves machines and inventions. As technology progresses, machines get ever faster, ever more powerful, ever more demanding. The telephone was invented as a tool to improve communication, and yet less than 200 years after it’s invention, many people in the industrialized world are effectively on call. As the technology has increased, the expected human response time has been reduced. Paradoxically, instead of allowing humans more time, the technology has demanded that humans keep up with it’s pace.
When you look at the receiving end of better, faster, easier and more affordable, you get more complexity, more items to buy and maintain, a decrease in expected response time, and more choices to be made. Although your life may be more comfortable and efficient, it has also become more complex as a result of technology. More is expected of you.
Why do people on vacation today look forward to leaving their watch and cell phone at home? Could it be because the technology is making heavier and heavier demands on humans? Could the increased efficiency on the output side demand increased efficiency on the input side? The technology is demanding that you keep up with it’s pace and it is working at the speed of light.
The issue of course is that human beings are not developing along the moores law curve. Humans are relatively static compared to a transistor density that doubles every two years. Machines are becoming ever more powerful and ever more demanding while the human being being remains relatively constant.
An economist would call all of this increased productivity. As human beings however, is it our goal to have our productivity continuously increased? Is that what the evolution of our species is about? Is ever increased productivity the goal? Is it as simple as that? What IS our goal? Is our goal to be able to produce and consume at an ever faster more efficient and accelerated rate? This essay raises that as a philosophical question. The other philosophical question is, are we being forced into the use of it without a viable alternative?
We want technology to afford us a higher standard of living. Instead it is making more demands on our time and expecting us to keep up with it’s pace. As technology continues to progress, human response times will be expected to keep up, until what? Probably until we are physically integrated into it. Is any of that good? Is that really what we want? Do we have a choice?
As technology moves at an accelerated pace relative to you in your “constant human” state, your productivity becomes ever greater and that’s good, right? Why? Is a chicken that was grown in a cage and fed antibiotics to keep it alive during it’s 56 days to slaughter a better product than a pre technological revolution chicken? Is a chair made on an assembly line better than one made in a craftsman’s shop by hand? This idea revolves around what constitutes “better”. Higher productivity is not necessarily better. Better is not always faster, lower cost, or more efficient.
Because of this fact, is it possible that increased productivity has led to junk? Maybe our landfills are filling up with junk because technology is producing junk instead of products that might have taken far longer to create and been produced far less efficiently, but might have lasted for generations? Maybe technology is forcing us into a disposable society? Maybe technology is leading us to be living, breathing and eating in a sea of disposable junk all produced by robots with great precision and efficiency at the lowest possible cost.
Maybe we are consuming fast food/junk food because of our increased productivity and less free time? Maybe we are consuming junk media; watching junk TV and junk movies because technology is demanding ever higher productivity from us.
What are the consequences of our dependence on technology? 50 years ago, computers were not even a part of our daily lives and today we are utterly dependent on them.The industrialized world today is totally dependent on, and could not function without computers. If computers quit working you couldn’t get home from work because every single moving vehicle would be dead in it’s tracks.
Because of this, it could be argued that technology is making the fabric of our society more fragile and vulnerable. If computers everywhere were to fail, you would have no power, the car wouldn’t start, businesses wouldn’t open, you would not be able to obtain food. Simulations show how quickly our technology based civilization would grind to an immediate halt followed by anarchy if computers all failed. Although the risk of something like this is small, the consequences are so large that the risk of dependence should be considered, and yet it is not. Instead, technology marches on and we as humans are powerless to stop the progression of it. It is arguable, and many people have argued, that as technology becomes ever more powerful relative to a “constant human”, it will relentlessly take over more and more of our lives.
Today as we have autonomous killer drone planes deployed at war, some of these former concerns have already been realized. When autonomous computers are armed with advanced weapons systems, is that good for humanity or bad for humanity? What are the risks of arming computers? Will we eventually trust machines with our existence? Will machines be our rulers and protectors without even realizing it?
What about arming the computers with money? Computers now control banking as well as the stock exchanges. Do these trading computers have the ability to autonomously wipe out our equity before someone can pull the plug?
Technology has allowed us to live in greatly increased comfort, but that comes at a price. As our comfort level has increased, so has the amount of energy used. As technology delivers this greater level of comfort, are we increasingly using the resources of our host planet at an unsustainable rate? Along with higher population rates and longer overall life expectancy, what are the long term consequences of this trend all afforded by technology? Is all the technology worth going to the shore to see oily beaches and dead birds or washed up hypodermic needles? Is living in an air conditioned high rise or driving on the interstate at 70 miles an hour diminishing your interaction and enjoyment with nature and the planet? Are you using more resources than the planet can sustain? If not now, then when?
Would we be better off as a civilization if we didn’t have global media beaming the same thing into all of our living rooms and instead had local and community produced culture? Today our society spends endless hours being entertained by technology. Endless hours of video games. Television. Gadgetry. Is the technology helping or hindering human development? Does a youth spent mesmerized by entertaining video games leave a void that should have been filled by learning and life experience?
What about the arts? Is a guitar hero better than someone who took up a real musical instrument? Is a real athlete more self satisfied and healthy than a couch potato sports fan brought to us via the machines? As the world moves to social networking and instant messages rather than person to person contact, what has happened to human interaction? As we all sit on the couch pressing buttons to communicate with our thousands of “friends”, has technology stripped the meaning out of “friend”? Is a friend really someone who disappears when you press the off button? In the future, will our “friends” be machines…computers mimicking humans? Is the progression of technology enhancing the human experience or diminishing it? Maybe it all depends on how the technology is applied, but how are we choosing to apply it?
Technology was supposed to make everything easier, but it wasn’t supposed to strip humans of their dignity and privacy. As we are now set to have our bodies radiated and examined to get on an airplane so we can more efficiently and quickly get from point a to point b, one might ask if communities would have more character if there were no airplanes, nationwide mall chains and ever fewer large monolithic retailers? One might wonder if all of those security cameras would be necessary if the technology to produce them did not exist.
Computers have made it possible and probable that there is no such thing as privacy in any form of electronic communication, including the digital telephone. If desired, a person’s every movement can be tracked. The entire world can look into your backyard on a computer. Do we need that? Do we have a choice?
Is the fact that the technology exists going to ultimately lead to evil uses of it? No one ever really wants to talk about traits repeatedly demonstrated in the human species like self importance, ascendancy, irrational belief. What about hostility towards our own species, paranoia, lust for power and control, greed, domination, self extermination, genocide, intentional destruction, depletion or misuse of resources? That is the history of the human species.
We now have global gangs of hedge funds and banks who using fiat currency and 99% leverage can launch speculative attacks against entire countries. This sort of economic warfare was not possible without the computers and technology. It arguably provides another example of human development of a technology, then misuse of it.
Is it possible that technology itself isn’t the problem and that we as a species are simply incapable of handling the progression of it due to our shortcomings?
We have harnessed the power of the atom to make nuclear weapons. The question that needs to be asked is, has mankind benefited in any way from nuclear weapons? There are a long list of hazards associated with this technology. As weapons move along the technology curve with ever improving price vs performance, nuclear weapons technology proliferates and it becomes more and more affordable to acquire these weapons. Is that benefiting the human species? As political regimes and authority to use the weapons may come and go, the weapons remain. In this regard is technology a Sword of Damocles in wait of a world leader insane enough to use them? Because of the relentless progression of technology, does it become a countdown timer to extinction when at some point in the future the power of an atomic bomb can be held in your hand?
Our human leaders have embraced an ideology of pre emptive wars using technology to preserve the peace. Innocent people’s lives have become “collateral damage”. People are being killed from the air conditioned comfort of a command and control center. As the weapons move along the technology curve; as they become ever more powerful, ever more cost effective and ever more ubiquitous, how is it possible to believe that they won’t be used again with even more deadly consequences?
Studies will consistently show us a correlation with high technology, stress and a negative correlation with standard of living. Ten percent of the high tech US population take anti-depressant drugs. The society has a higher self inflicted death rate than a tribe living in the woods without any technology where antidepressants and suicide are unheard of. Is technology necessitating technology to cope with technology and doing a poor job at it?
Scientists are now modifying the plant, animal and human genome, the design of life itself. The food supply is being bio engineered and released into the wild with entirely unknown and almost certainly catastrophic consequences. Is this how technology is improving our lives or is it putting humanity and the planet at risk of technological development that outpaces the human maturity to handle it?
Virtually every fish on the planet is now contaminated with mercury. In some places even the rain is toxic. There are residuals of pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals in our drinking water and ground water. We are producing annually billions of pounds of toxic pesticides, poisons, herbicides and man made toxic chemicals. All this waste is being released into the environment at an unsustainable rate of clearance. There was no promise of technology that it would pollute the planet, that was a side effect.
Ever larger machines are being developed to extract, transport and store toxic cargo’s. Safety precautions are always taken, but the error rate is not zero, so accidents and releases happen. As the machines become ever larger and more powerful, the number of accidents goes down, but when one happens it can be nearly catastrophic for the planet, the local inhabitants and ecosystem. No one told us of these ever increasing risks of technology. What happens when a satellite filled with plutonium crashes to the earth or vaporizes in the atmosphere?
Some would argue the benefits of technology have outweighed its negative consequences. Here it is has been argued that the consequences of the development and use of it has outweighed the good. Furthermore because of our human failings, we have as a species failed at the proper application and use of it.
We as human beings are not increasing our wisdom and maturity regarding how to use the technology as fast as the technology itself is progressing.
As a result, humans aren’t using technology, the technology is using humans. The rise of the machines will guarantee the eventual termination of the species by either poisoning the planet beyond it’s ability to host us, poisoning it’s inhabitants, or destroying ourselves. Possibly all three.
A non defective genome would not destroy itself. If it did, it would be a defective genome. The machines are just the tool, or not? Is it possible that the rate of increase of the rise of the machines relative to the constant human represent an exploit of a weakness in the human genome? Are we being attacked by ourselves?
Whatever the case may be, whether these arguments are all valid or not, a case is made here for debate and for an objective look at both the benefits and the drawbacks of technology and it’s progression.
Filed under: Philosophy, technology, thought experiments
100 Percent of Fish in U.S. Streams Found Contaminated with Mercury