Science Fiction Repair Shop: Artificial Stupidity Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-02-08 10:00:00-05:00 No comments

n+1: The Stupidity of Computers

... because computers cannot come to us and meet us in our world, we must continue to adjust our world and bring ourselves to them. We will define and regiment our lives, including our social lives and our perceptions of our selves, in ways that are conducive to what a computer can “understand.” Their dumbness will become ours. 

I would argue that this has already happened — not with the rise of Facebook or Twitter, but something that has been a hazard ever since man began to "not use technology, but live technology," as Godfrey Reggio put it. But each advance makes it all the harder to resist the temptation to let ourselves be all watched over by machines of (allegedly) loving grace.

I'm not saying this because I want to smash the keyboard I'm typing this on (I'm not that naïve), but only because I want us to develop some sense of discipline. We handle fire very seriously and cautiously, because we have endless millennia of knowledge about what happens when we don't. We have no such near-intuitive understanding of the foolish use of information networks, not just because we haven't had them for very long but because their effects are once, twice, thrice-abstracted from immediate appreciation.

SF has long functioned as a kind of cautionary fairy tale about trusting ourselves too completely to our creations, not just because the price might be an immediate catastrophe but a more long-term, invisible, boiling-of-the-frog destruction of things we can't appreciate the loss of until it's too late.

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But the real caution is not in the machines themselves, but in their careless use — in warnings about human carelessness and hubris, in making ourselves into machines of another kind. That requires a story and an author (and maybe also an audience) that is attuned to an understanding of human frailty, and of people generally — a Stanisław Lem or a Phil Dick, maybe even a Kurt Vonnegut, rather than one of SF's techno-positivists or techno-apologists.

There is very little of this sort of work being done right now, and I'm toying with the idea of how in future works of mine I can produce something in that vein without it being heavy-handed.

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