It has been a few weeks (okay, two months) since I last posted to The Road Not Taken but when I saw the video below I knew I had to repost it as soon as possible. The futuristic film comes from creators Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo as a part of their graduation project from Bezaleal Academy of Arts that illustrates some provocative uses for embedded augmented reality. It also does a very good job of highlighting some of the risks associated with depending too much on external sources of knowledge/information (and technology in general) versus relying on our internal knowledge repository (i.e., the brain) and senses.
This video reminds me of April 2000 Wired article by Bill Joy titled “Why the future doesn’t need us” (which changed my life) and Joy’s commentary on the dystopian scenario posited by Ted Kaczynski’s Unibomber Manifesto that he was in turn quoting from Ray Kurzeil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines:
“First let us postulate that the computer scientists succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human control over the machines might be retained.
If the machines are permitted to make all their own decisions, we can’t make any conjectures as to the results, because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the machines. It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite – just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system. If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity. If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite. Or, if the elite consists of soft-hearted liberals, they may decide to play the role of good shepherds to the rest of the human race. They will see to it that everyone’s physical needs are satisfied, that all children are raised under psychologically hygienic conditions, that everyone has a wholesome hobby to keep him busy, and that anyone who may become dissatisfied undergoes “treatment” to cure his “problem.” Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them “sublimate” their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free. They will have been reduced to the status of domestic animals.”
It also hearkens back to a December 2010 Tech Crunch article by Devin Coldewey – The Dangers of Externalizing Knowledge – wherein he debates the benefits and dangers associated with our increasing reliance on external sources of information versus the a collection of personal experiences humans have depended upon since the dawn of time.
“Contemplating the shortcomings of the younger generation has ever been a hobby of the elder. As I start to transition to the latter population (perhaps a bit early for my age), I’ve found myself worrying more and more about the kids, and how little they seem to appreciate things. That kind of complaint is neither constructive or original. But the fact is that the kids are growing up pretty weird these days, because of the way technology has outpaced our institutions of learning and standards of knowledge.
The short attention span and reliance on non-text media are to be expected in an age where attention is indulged by on-demand information, and the effects of these things will continue to be written about, rightly and wrongly. There is a more subtle and insidious trend, however, that may prove to be more damaging than tech-born changes in learning modality.
It’s a process that has been going on for a long time, but that recent developments may push to the breaking point. The problem, as I see it, is that we have stopped valuing the accumulation of information within ourselves.”
An interesting set of considerations and an equally interesting – if not terrifying – ending to the film.