Technophobia

Standard

My smoke detector is planning on killing me. In fact, according to my cat-in a box executive decision maker, the detector has recently joined Skynet. There is no doubt that machines are out to get us and are eager to supplant mankind as the dominant species on earth.

Well, not so much. The days of Skynet are still a few years off (or is it?). We are all familiar with the extravagant claims of trans-humanism, the singularity and so on. I even had a person come up to me the other day and said she was worried about trans-humanism. I smiled and thought — Wingnut! — and tried to reassure her that the efforts to replicate the human mind are still in their infancy and may remain so for some time to come.

Technology is nothing to be afraid of; technology in the hands of bad people is another matter. Nevertheless I’m generally a big fan of scientific and technological advance. And why not — if it weren’t for technology and for unnatural augmentation of the human body (such as asthma inhalers and hospitals), I wouldn’t be here. I certainly wouldn’t be typing at this computer.

Technology is not exactly neutral. We all know that if the only tool you have is a hammer then everything tends to look like a nail. Technology drives us to operate in a certain manner. But fortunately we all have, as individuals, some modicum of choice and, indeed, as collectives, a whole lot of choice as to how we use technology. And since we are mostly — though not universally — driven by the desire to increase our utility in the world, and by utility I mean pleasure, technology generally tends to be used for good things.

That’s because, for the most part, pleasure is good in the exact some way as its opposite, pain, is generally bad. I could elaborate on that but I think I already have.

So what is the deal, why are people afraid? The simple answer is because of Hollywood — we watch zombie movies or SF movies or even techno-thrillers and we become afraid of the changes that science — or technology, or globalization or the future — might bring. As well, most of us are both basically conservative (that is we are more assured by the past than the future) and largely blind to the complexity and technological dependency of our own lives.

Let me put it this way — trans-humanism began with the first use of a stick to help lame people walk. Pirates with hooks instead of hands were the first artificially changed people. Technology offers us so many chances to let blind men see and lame walk, to even extend life for decades or centuries. But make no mistake it will be human life. Technology is not to be feared — but some of the people who own and control it should be.

But that’s ten minutes.

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