Assimilating the friendly machines, part 2: The sublime propaganda

 

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There is a silent and secret campaign going on. It’s been active for years. It’s on the TV, in books, in video games, on billboards, on the web. It’s not for a specific product, more of a line of products. I am of course talking about robots.

The theme of robots has been picked up by many science fiction writers. Probably most notably by Isaac Asimov. Early fiction containing robots were mostly depicting them as either evil, weird or stupid but this has gradually moved towards describing them as intelligent, helpful and even compassionate. In todays media landscape – with robotics being more hyped than ever – one can find robotics attributed in everywhere from children’s tv-shows(Rob the Robot, Cars, Bob the Builder) to music (Daft Punk) to actual robots looking after our children to weaponized military drones.

 

”Watching John with the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The Terminator would never stop. It would never leave him. It would never hurt him, never shout at him, or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there. And it would die to protect him. Of all the would-be fathers who came and went over the years, this thing, this machine was the only one that measured up. In an insane world, it was the sanest choice”

– Sarah Connor, Terminator 2

 

Why are a lot of us suddenly embracing robots more than before? What made us change our mood from paranoid skepticism (Hal 9000, Terminator, Ash in Alien, Blade Runner) to over the top optimistic depictions bordering on praises? As commercial media has claimed more power over the public than actual research the opinions and news are often one sided and without nuance. Yes, there are voices warning us about embracing new technology to quickly but they easily disappear in the ocean of how cool, uncomplicated, time saving (a huge factor) and convenient this technology is. The psychological or moral discussions seldom reach the surface.

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It is strange that we apparently are trying to fulfill our own fictional prophecies almost word by word. A lot of science fiction has acted as inspiration to inventions but the future strategies for robot development almost seem carbon copied from a book by Asimov. Fiction is fiction and we have to make up our own moral compass, rules and laws before trying to transform fiction into reality.

 

Keeping technology at bay

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As long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by technology. I can still remember the thrill of trying to catch a glimpse of the first video game ever in a room full of boys. There on the smallest TV screen possible an older kid was playing Bazooka Bill. Everyone was excited and anxious to don’t miss a thing although no one other than the one playing could actually see what was happening.

After this the game consoles followed, and later the Commodore home computer series, and with that my first go at coding. What a magic thrill it was to be able to instruct the computer where to look and where to go and what to display.

But I was then as I am now very careful to not let technology swallow me whole, to fully baptise me into it’s eternal religion. It is important for me to be able to keep technology at bay, to watch it from afar and to try to grasp its influence and the way it transforms our behaviour, communication and social life. Though most of my work has required me to understand, construct and develop different complex technical implementations I have always tried to keep my head above the seducing waves of technology and steer the ship towards the users experience instead: What is what we’re creating really good for? Who is going to use it, and why?

In my view technology should never be a goal in itself. If no one wants to or can’t use it efficiently it immediately becomes pointless. There is no room for bad technology in todays tech savvy society.

Don’t get me wrong. I am truly fascinated by future scenarios of society and culture, science fiction and tech-centred subjects as singularity, transhumanism, nanotechnology and the future of interaction, but I want to analyse both what we can gain from this technological inventions and processes and what we could lose by adopting them and also which power players influence humanity towards different goals.

I believe that the future of communication will be more integrated in our humanity (something I will try to describe further in my next post), more seamless and less disruptive of human culture. Technology can be a powerful tool. If you use it wisely.

Recommended read regarding this: A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute