Humanity creates technology in order to ease or enhance our lives in some way. Machines perform tasks that we are physically unable or simply unwilling to do; computers and the internet enable us to communicate instantaneously across the globe (and off it) and provide access to information on an unprecedented scale. Technology makes our lives more convenient. But while technology advances at a rate exciting to some, it can seem ominous to others. There exists an anxiety that our reliance on technology dehumanizes us and even, in a worst case scenario, destroys us.
The creation of increasingly intelligent technology is likely the main source of this anxiety. On the one hand are ethical considerations- as discussed in our presentation- and on the other, the fear that our creations might turn against us. The antithesis of a benign AI like Data is Skynet and the Terminators (not a musical group). Created for defense, Skynet rapidly becomes self-aware and determines that humanity is a threat, and triggers a nuclear war which kills half the Earth’s population. Putting human defense under the control of machines proves catastrophic. We trust that the technology we create is safely under our control, but as we “boldly go” into our future that niggling fear of losing control persists. Annihilation by cyborg overlords is terrifying, but the knowledge that we are the architects of our own destruction is profoundly disturbing (if not a bit embarrassing).
(After sitting five days in the editing box, this link has resisted all attempts to embed or hyperlink it. You’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and copy and paste.)
The outstanding and, in my opinion, woefully under-appreciated Black Sabbath album Dehumanizer, (featuring the magnificent late Ronnie James Dio) explores ways in which we lose our humanity. I won’t go on and on about it, but I will encourage readers to give it a good listen. The song “Computer God” echoes the Terminator movies (the album was released the year after the T2). Indeed, the album cover features a rather cheesy Terminator-esque figure reaping an electrical man. “Computer God” creates a picture of cold, technological revolution, but also our disconnection and loss of humanity through that technology.
Whether we believe technology is benign or menacing, the frisson we might experience at the Terminator’s calculating red eye reminds us of our uncertainty.