There was a recent episode of The 21st Century on PBS (<-Gasp! Shock! It Watches … Tee Vee?? — I had a weak moment.->) about the concepts of the Man-Machine interface.
For those not in the know, the MM is a staple of science fiction often over looked but of late thanks to films like the Matrix, the concept of human/computer interaction on a very intimate level isn’t as difficult to explain as it once was. Suffice to say, you’re wired into a computer, and possibly other devices as well. The level on which you’re wired blurs the lines of personal reality – it effectively replaces many of your senses.
This isn’t like the Six-Million Dollar Man, where your eye glows and you can see for miles. It’s more like having a pop up computer display, or in more extreme scenarios it replaces your visual senses completely with an amalgam of both the computer world and the real world. This isn’t just for vision, but for hearing, smells, you name it – the computer can simulate it or generate it. Now, were I in need of such a device to say, replace my failing sight – I could see the need for this.
But inventors have actually prototyped and envisualised the ability to replace things like McDonalds signs – with other things. Meaning you’re not seeing … what you’re actually seeing. You’re seeing what the machine wants you to. You’re seeing only those things that someone else has (or perhaps worse) you choose to see. This is a vision of the future – I’d rather not have. In a world where we all too often run from the experiences we have, refuse to take ownership of our part in the dramas of life (in everything from our addictions to our views on the environment, war, famine, poverty)… being able to ignore those things which disturb us would be ethically and morally horrific.
Scarier still on the concept of the man-machine interface was the man who espoused the wonders of us all being connected as a single entity, thinking as one, with a singular purpose. He discussed this in very utopian visions, and as an almost ironic twist – his assistants and peers described soldiers operating on a battlefield with a single mind, incapable of fear, regret, and operating with the efficiency of a machine. Herein lies the rub as they say… just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it. Because in the end, you’re really not in control of your devices or your visions, your peers – your fellow man, the end user as they say – is who is in control of how things are used. Or, as the NRA likes to point out – A gun has never killed anyone… people kill people, not guns. Which is very true.
So even thought this kindly white haired gent may envision his future of us all accepting each other in peace and harmony and freedom… sitting around all having wonderful group thoughts and group feelings and group closeness… an armored battalion of group-marines is probably closing in on them, circling like a pack of computer efficient wolves, and at a moments notice… the flick of a switch… firing simultaneously to end that group thought about not needing a governement now that you all think the same. Or worse still… a man at a desk on the other side of the planet sees the implications of the group thought going on in your group… flicks a switch and you all decide you need a double quarter pounder with cheese instead of a soloution to world peace issues.
Don’t laugh… in 15 years – the basic technology will be here for just that. We never consider – after we have these great thoughts and great inventions, where do we go from here? Let’s face it, who would ever have thought that food could be used as a tool of warfare, and yet it is, it has, and the history of economic and resource starvation in war is long and well documented and alive and well today. What? You thought when they kept discussing "Economic Sanctions" against countries they simply had a hard time using an ATM? Let’s not be so naive as to imagine that a sanction – isn’t just that – another method of resource starvation – another method of warfare.
In a world where we’ll gladly starve children, suffer the innocents – so that we don’t get our hands dirty, so that we don’t have to accept the fact that horrible human rights violations are happening, and our own government will dictate what’s "in our best interests", and interpret our constitution how they feel it most accurately represents the needs of the people (and they are, after all, the people aren’t they?) … in a world such as this, placing the ability to alter what is seen, what is felt, how it’s felt, and by whom… is something that would make George Orwell either envious or terrified, and I haven’t figured out which yet.