Will technology turn us all into slaves?

by 21cstories

Technology slaveThe internet, or more accurately, the world wide web, celebrates its 25th anniversary today. Some rambling thoughts on the rise of ‘the machine’, invented to do log tables and census work, on the likes of patterns or threads woven by looms.

My first encounter with computers and software was when my father brought home a book on learning BASIC. So I learnt the basic coding loops, and got to know about COBOL and FORTRAN. That was in 1989. A trip to a Soviet exhibition in the city was where I first saw the machine – the IBM PC, and some guys keying in a program. They made me type a few lines of code. And then at school in 1990, where we had a science festival, I had a glimpse of the mouse… though its use and functions were unfathomable.

Today the advances in this space look mind boggling. We are talking about technology and its influence, the good and the bad things. It is addictive, overpowering, a no-getting-away thing. As an aside, sending music through air looks more miraculous to me then transmitting it over wire… the latter appears primitive and doable. Didn’t we play the match-box-string radio as kids?

The popular doubts run as follows – So are machines going to run tomorrow’s world? Are they going to clear the Turing test and become intelligent? Or in the sci-fi scenario, ‘conscious’?

Some take a darker perspective and say – these machines and mobiles were invented by the industrial-corporate world to make automatons, slaves out of the working classes. Give them these gadgets, they say, make them learn how to use them, and then turn them over to us. We could say the same even about the education system.

Leftist views perhaps. A ‘spectre’ was said to be haunting Europe in the 19th century. A new spectre, its nemesis, or analog – of the smart screens and monitors – is haunting us now.

The technologies themselves are really old. I believe it was Tesla (who invented AC) who proposed long time ago how text could be transmitted using wireless (SMS). And a recent video that went viral showed a young woman emerge out of a building and talk over a small phone in her hand. That was I guess in 1939. Her company was researching mobile technologies. And the touch screen technology is old too.

New things excite us, addict us. And for the institutions, they are a new power in hand to amaze and put fear in the ruled… like the doctor’s instruments did in early days. We have ‘humnanised’ the personal computer, got to know how to work around it. And it no longer wields power over us.

I think no advance in technology can dissolve certain abstract social entities: the customer, voter, patient, client, the student, the employee… we can suppress them, but can’t remove the abstract line of separation, unless new and uniform identities were created, like say in an all encompassing, totalitarian system.

It is scary to even think about what role the internet and its forums and networks will play in the next big war. On the social network front, I believe it will mostly be a support role. A huge gossip mongering exercise. Much of this technology is really kiddish, for those who live a group life.

The single man or woman ought to be content with the peace at night in bed. It’s ok, honey, as long as you don’t change beds!

To answer the kuestion in the title: it depends on the place: in some areas and institutions, depending on its underlying culture, it can enslave us, and in others it can be a liberating force. It is not so much about the technology, but the outside framework.


Pic: USA Technology Today