Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Will androids take over the earth? Or will technology just take over our heads?

Some of you may question whether androids will take over the earth. Some of you may stay up late some nights wondering if that will happen. Whether we'll create such sentient technology that we'll have to give it the status of another living being.

If you're one of those people, I must say that I'm not in your camp.

I can honestly say I've never worried about whether androids, were they to become popular, would ever take over the world or deserve the status of human beings. I don't think, at the current time, technology's headed in that direction. I suppose that's why I'm not convinced by books such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and Neuromancer by William Gibson.

However, I am fascinated by a related question asked in some of these sorts of speculative fiction books, one I think is more likely. That question is whether we will biologically engineer some sort of technology connected with the human body that will blur the lines between us and technology.

Take, for instance, the technology implanted in humans in one of my favorite recent books: Feed by M. H. Anderson. Implanted in people's brains, the "feed" allows for someone to constantly experience the Internet, TV, telepathic email, etc. all the time. One of the really scary parts of this device is the individualized marketing based on mood. So for instance, if a character is feeling depressed, he might get a message from the "feed" that he can cheer up by buying a sweater from so-and-so shop online, and instantly do that.

The scarier thing is that the teenagers in this book respond positively to that kind of invitation.

I tend to emphasize the positive sides of technology more often than not, but the warning in this aspect of the book hits not too far from the mark. It's not as if people haven't escaped their true emotional needs for years by other means, but technology does behoove us to be more and more intentional about how we respond to such stimuli (which are already pretty easy to find around us). And what happens to humanity if technology becomes so "user-friendly" that it's part of us?

Fascinating book--won lots of awards. I highly recommend it.

That said, I have a paper to work on for one of my classes--sort of wish there was an easier way than to have to extract the information painstakingly from my head and insert it into the laptop, then re-write to make sure it all made sense. Hm... Maybe there is a market for a reverse kind of feed... But then again, if it integrated with our brains as well as the implants did in Feed, I'd be sporting unidentified lesions on my skin in a matter of years...

I suppose there's no way around it. I'll have to write the essay the old-fashioned way--from my brain to my fingers keyboarding the words into the laptop. *sigh* Life's so rough these days. :)


China Lily said...

yikes, deb. i must say that i'm glad that i have to write essays the old fashioned way. if our professors were able to extract our essays from our brains, i would have to say that they would get nothing but a HUGE headache from me!

your fellow dystopianite,

Deborah Leiter said...

Well, yeah, there would have to be some sort of organizational tool within the technology to sort out the ideas.... But that's what would make it so dystopian, if such a tool existed. However much I complain about it, I love the endlessly dynamic work in arranging my thoughts into words, then rearranging my words to try to mirror my thoughts, then discovering my thoughts by the rearrangement of the words... It's a beautiful thing. A technology that would take away the work inherent in doing that isn't a utopia for me at all (except in the wee hours when I'm tempted by the idea of the easy way out)...

Christopher James Fedak said...

Hi there, I found your home via Rilla's Blog. I love the way you write abou the collision (interface?) between technology and culture. I spend a lot of time thinking about the effect that the technologies I am a part of creating will have on the world at large.

The scariest thing about the feed concept you describe here, is that it's really not too far away from being possible. Consider that Pervasive wireless internet is just around the corner, and that we already are creating systems that directly respond to brain activity, and that Human Emotion recognition and simulation is being done right now.

There's a guy who is fairly famous for having developed and "field tested" a system that connects him to the world wide web 24/7 (for the past3-4 years) via sattelite, the use of a tiny lcd screen attached to his glasses, and a one handed keyboard on his belt. Guys from CMU were wearing an updated version of this idea at a conference recently, and the system was almost completely hidden.

While we don't have the technology to send complex sensory stimulus directly to the brain, or exctract complicated thoughts, a ubiquitous direct link to the internet that responds to emotions could be built today.


Chazritz said...

I disagree. I think AI will be a reality, assuming humanity doesn't find a way to eliminate itself by then ( engineered plague, bombs, war, global warming... whatever). I think the reason we believe it is not possible is because it makes us feel less special. I have found "singularity" theory to be interesting in the realm of AI.


Cindy said...

Well Deb, I thought the "old-fashioned" way had to do with a bottle of ink and a quill pen. Or maybe a chisel and hammer. :-)
Have fun with your work.