Svetlana Kashirina Professor Balcan BCC WRT-101 Digital Technology and Evolution of Humanity: How Science Fiction is Crossing into Reality We cannot deny the fact that information technologies play a major role in the modern society. Little by little humanity becomes more dependent on the technological advancements. The extent of our reliance on “artificial intelligence” of the inventions like iPhones and Google makes some of us uneasy.
In a new environment, which reminds us of a science fiction movie, we need to be in control of our own evolution in order to remain human. “Machine vs. Human” is the central theme of many movies, books, and articles. A great number of important intellectuals have offered contradicting opinions on the subject, while providing very convincing pieces of evidence: personal, scientific, historical and etc. Some call technological revolution a “blessing,” some simply think “it is what it is” and some see it responsible for a future destruction of humanity.
Let’s join this discussion to find out if there is validity to the concerns and to determine if we are even capable to find a solution to the problem. As proven to us by hurricane Sandy, human dependency on technologies, is bit of a problem. The writer Aimee Lee Ball in her recent NYT article “Hurricane Reveals Life Unplugged,” describes experiences of ordinary families surviving many weeks without power: “…the storm provided a rare glimpse of a life lived offline. It drove some people crazy, while others managed to embrace the experience of a digital slowdown.
It also produced some unexpected ammunition for parents eager to curb the digital obsessions of their children. ” The latest case of power outage left us people, kids especially, to stare at walls not knowing what to do with our time and made us aware to what extent our lives are affected by technologies, and to what point we are really “plugged in. ” Only “disconnect,” like the one recently experienced can make people understand the true nature of the addiction to technologies.
The writer Gary Shteyngart is among many, who had noticed how technological dependency changes the texture of life, and reflected it in his creative works. In his 2008 article “Only Disconnect,” published in NY Times, he describes how in one “poof” his usual world “fell away” and was replaced by virtual. Shteyngart is surprised and concerned how his state of mind was completely transformed when he first became an owner of an iPhone. The author writes, “I follow the arrow taco-ward, staring at my iPhone the way I once glanced at humanity, with interest and anticipation.
In my techno-figure state I nearly knock down toddlers and the elderly, even as the strange fiction and even stranger reality of New York, from the world of Bartleby forward, tries to reassert itself in the form of an old man in a soiled guayabera proudly, openly defecating on Grand Street. But sorry, Viejo, you’re not global enough to hold my attention…” Many of us can relate to this — it’s true, our dependency on things like easy connectivity “plugs” us into this new digital world, a new reality, brought by technology. I dream of leaving, too,” writes Shteygart , wanting to leave this new reality, dominated by “artificial intelligence” but it is not so easy. The science fiction movie called “The Matrix,” (1999) written and directed by Wachovski brothers continues the argument that by being attached to technologies “humanity is doomed. ” The movie is allowing us to actually experience living in a world that is controlled by an artificial intelligence. In this world, in a similar way we are now using machines for assistance, machines are using humans.
At the end of the 21st century and shortly after “the mankind marveled at its own magnificence as they gave birth to AI” the machines have turned on their creators. After losing the war, humans were reduced to be a “power source” for the machines, since “a human body generates more bio electricity than a 120 volt battery…25000 BTU’s of body heat. ” People were being literally grown for that purpose, like the character Morpheus puts it, on the fields where “humans are no longer born” and kept under control being “plugged in” to the “neural interactive simulation,” which is a “computer generated dream world. “This is only science fiction and only a product of imagination,” some people would say. Perhaps, they are right, but clearly some parallels can be drawn between the movie and reality. Human’s dependency on the outside sources is a proven scientific fact. Let’s look at the writings of Andrew Clark, professor of logic and metaphysics, specifically his 2010 article “Out Of Our Brains” (published in the New York Times). Clark explains that a “cognitive success” is not about the activity within our brains, but depends heavily on the outside sources. Good example of which are IPhones, BlackBerrys and other information technologies.
These devices serve as “bio-external elements in an extended cognitive process: one-that crisscrosses the conventional boundaries of skin and skull. ” So according to this model, in a way, we are already “plugged in” — the outside “bio-external” elements, like in the movie, have already been dominating our cognition. Clark’s position is: it is perfectly normal and it is part of our evolution – what sounds a little like science fiction, is reality. Clark admits that it is not easy for humans to accept this model of “mental processing” as “genuine. ” We tend to deny our dependency on technologies. Clark calls it “bio-envelope prejudice. We are confident that when it comes to the process of cognition, the brain cannot be possibly inferior to the outside sources! Role of technologies must be secondary! Aren’t these inventions only a product of the mind? The movie “The Matrix” is showing us an extreme case of how humans may become totally dependent on machines. Like Morpheus mentioned describing how AI took over the world: “Fate it seems is not without a sense of irony. ” Humans that had once “marveled at [their] own magnificence,” so sure of their superiority, became victims of the reversed discrimination and nothing but prisoners to their own creations.
In the movie, the life simulator — called the Matrix, created a perfect prison for the human mind and was specifically designed to keep humans under control. People went to work, church, paid taxes and led their “virtual lives” without realizing the truth, that they are the slaves of the Matrix. Here writings of Nicholas Carr, come to mind, drawing parallels between “The Matrix” and the modern world, controlled by large corporations: our technological dependency is also a product of the strategic marketing.
In his article, “Is Google Making us Stupid” Carr talks about Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s (“two gifted young man, who found Google,”) desire “to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence…” Sergey Brin had stated once, that humanity would be “better off” with “…all the world’s information directly attached to [our] brain and it is Google Corporation’s goal to make it happen in a near future. Carr finds this idea to be “unsettling. ” He argues against “plugging us in” — making human “intelligence [an] output of the mechanical process” and “The Matrix” type corporation’s like Google ttempt to digitalize our minds. Carr states that Google Corporation and such, obsessed with enhancing our brains with faster browsers, are not there to improve our mental abilities, they are only after their “best economic interests. ” Carr’s opinion is, as a result of this dependency, destruction of humanity is inevitable; there are already clear signs of biological and psychological changes — the negative effects on humanity from simply “googling stuff” on the Net.
Humans do not even notice, as Carr mentions in his article, how in a process of evolvement “under the pressure overload and the technology of instantly available” our “complex inner density” is being replaced with a “new kind of self,” perhaps with, like in the movie, a “residual self-image…a mental projection of your digital self. ” William Powers, another distinguished writer, in his book “Hamlet’s BlackBerry” agrees with Nicholas Carr that “digital business is the enemy of depth. He says: “We all know what depth is…It is the [human] quality of awareness, feeling, or understanding that comes when we truly engage with some aspect of life experience…” Powers is concerned that when we are spending our days “living this new ultra connected way” we are losing our potential to live deeply and therefore are losing our chance for a good life. The author is asking to once in a while to “withdraw from …the noise of high-tech life” and to go to “a less connected place where time isn’t so fugitive and where the mind can slow down and be itself again” – to disconnect, to unplug.
We need to abandon “the new digital philosophy” that “Nirvana is only one upgrade away” and that the “digital maximalism” is a “superior way of living,” because it’s not. Only then, we can be human again. So here is a question: do we have a choice of “plugging ourselves” to the Matrix or not? And is human freedom really a matter of being “unplugged? ” In the movie, the main character Neo, during his whole “virtual” life felt that something is wrong with this world, that he is not in-control of his own life.
He chose the “red pill” over the “blue pill,” when offered, choosing to be “unplugged,” in order to find out the truth and to commit to the “real” world, as ugly as it was. But as it turns out, not everyone shares Neo’s commitment to “real. ” Interesting enough, a character Cypher, who is the member of the resistance, actually chooses to betray others as part of the deal with the enemy — The Matrix, in exchange to be reinserted back into the “system. ” He very well knows that what you can feel and smell inside he Matrix, like a piece of juicy stake, does not exist and it is just “electrical signals interpreted by the brain,” but by his definition it is “real. ” In his opinion, “the Matrix is more real than this world. ” Just like in the movie some people are perfectly happy with the way evolution goes or think that the new reality “it is what it is,” but some choose to be in control by disconnecting. Most of those who chose the “blue pill” know that the virtual reality is not exactly “real. ” So humans do have a choice to control their evolution (a choice of “blue pill” or a “red pill”), it is just a matter of an individual moral stance.
And it is a matter of understanding what good life is really about. All of us agree that humanity is experiencing inevitable changes due to the rapid technological progress, and we are all affected by it. Like William Powers is stating in his book, “a good life is not where you are. It is how you decide to think and live. ” By doing small things and applying it “in ambitious ways” we can “beat the Matrix” and preserve and maintain humanity. Works Cited Ball, Aimee Lee, Hurricane Sandy Reveals Life Unplugged <http://www. nytimes. com/2012/11/11/fashion/hurricane-sandy-reveals-a-life-unplugged. tml? ref=style> Carr, Nicholas. 2008. Is Google Making Us Stupid? <http://www. theatlantic. com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid> Clark, Andrew. 2010. Out Of Our Brains <http://opinionator. blogs. nytimes. com/2010/12/12/out-of-our-brains> Powers, William (2010), Hamlet’s BlackBerry(1st edition). New York: Harper Collins Publishers Shteyngart, Gary. 2010. Only Disconnect, <http://www. nytimes. com/2010/07/18/books/review/Shteyngart-t. html? _r=0> Wachowski brothers. 1999. The Matrix, Warner Bros.