All posts by Tanelorn

Technology and Fears of Dehumanization

 

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.

brain-singularity-1
http://beagleresearch.com/web/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/brain-singularity-1.jpg

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).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mivg-F4UYko

(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.

dehumanizer
http://www.metal-archives.com/albums/Black_Sabbath/Dehumanizer/529#

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.

T3
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/terminator-3-rise-of-the-machines-2003

Freedom and the Zombie Apocalypse

 

I recently had a conversation with a family member who has just started watching the Walking Dead series. She said she finally decided to find out what all the fuss was about and ended up getting hooked, and she told me that she wished real life was like the apocalyptic world of the show. I understood what she meant. There is a kind of freedom and simplicity about living in a post-apocalyptic world, zombie or otherwise (although recently, mostly zombie). Our present consumerist society encourages pursuit of wealth and accumulation of stuff, and as we jostle for position in the rat race, we might feel we are in a never-ending competition with no meaningful goal. But in an apocalyptic setting, life is stripped down to the essentials- survival. Life in an apocalyptic world consists of finding food, shelter, safety. We are forced to live by our skills and our wits and everyone must pull their weight to survive; an apocalypse can be a social equalizer- at least temporarily.

 Zombies represent the most monstrous part of ourselves- hungry, ravenous, mindlessly consuming and never satisfied. And if zombies embody our unsatisfiable need to consume, which in turn consumes us, then bashing a physical embodiment of the ugliest part of ourselves is profoundly satisfying.

But while I certainly do not relish the idea of living in a world filled with flesh-eating zombies (especially the terrifyingly fast variety from 28 Days/Weeks Later), there is something appealing about a quiet, empty, bureaucracy-less, low-tech, traffic-free, suit-and-tie-less world. If it weren’t for the zombies it would be utopia.

Apocalyptic and hellish images by Zdzisław Beksiński below: