Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Self-Evolving Technology

The Self-Driving Car (SDC) shows an interesting aspect of Technology—namely that it seems to have a mind of its own and operates in a Self-Evolving way. If I were still writing science fiction, I’d write a novella with that theme. Not that it would be very original. SF is full of tales in which Technology, usually in the form of robots, evolves to such heights that it dreams of taking over everything.  But why am I picking on the SDC? Because it is one of the cleanest examples of a technology we do not need. So long as some people will be driving cars, the SDC will represent a danger to people, whether in those cars or not. And if people no longer use cars, what use would SDC be? Or is this technology ultimately aimed at eliminating flesh-and-blood drivers in trucking?

Two phenomena seem to be behind the self-evolving character of technology. One is illustrated by that old answer given by the mountain climber. Asked why he wants to risk his life and limb to conquer Mount Whatever, he answer by saying, “Because it’s there.” The other is that at least in its early stages, technology has generally proved beneficial to humanity; its negative aspects have tended to be half-obscured and slow in manifesting; therefore the public, presented with a new device—like the SDC—not only imagines that it will be a blessing but is also inclined to believe that the device will carve a place for itself whether we like it or not. Submission, therefore, is the natural way, no matter what the new technology might be.

Very slowly the world is transformed; but whether in the direction of the better is dubious—and dubious in part because other paths have never been walked. Around here another technological nexus is often much examined: the medical. It has grown in Brigitte’s and my lifetime from a doctor with a black bag making house calls into a veritable Himalaya of large machines on high and a vast jungle of small machines below —thus MRIs, CATs and so on top to small hand-held ultrasound pods on the ground that, pressed against the body, show its innards on a screen darkly. Now Artificial Intelligence is trending toward diagnostics by keyboard and screen. And as the car’s driver is being slowly marginalized, the doctor is gradually becoming a technician. A rather paradoxical outcome of medical technology’s ever growing perfections and spread—the reader should see the medications I’m forced to take and watch me labor dispensing them daily from a forest of containers—is that people live longer and longer, but the joy of that living is less and less and, at shorter and shorter intervals, requires for its maintenance entry into a bizarre machine—which itself holds other smaller weird machines—until, at last one enters the tunnel a final time and passes on with masses of tubes coming out of one’s nose and mouth and creatures holding thunder-dispensers in each hand approaching the chest to start that poor heart again until it cannot any more.

Seriously. The old ways are still with us over very large stretches of the globe’s geography. But another technology, the Media, make us think that leaving the Paradise of Technology for that primitive world would be dreadful. From a distance, perhaps. From up close, Self-Evolving Technology can be quite hellish too.

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