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Devolving through Technology

November 3, 2010
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Technology is cool, right? It’s cool to have the flashy new cell phone or the most updated IPod. It’s cool to access every inch of your life from every inch of the planet; no waiting in torturous suspense for Brittany to text you what Sidney wore to last night’s party. It’s all right in front of you! Technology is great! Right?

It is my strong belief that technology isn’t really all it’s wired up to be (bad attempt at a pun, sorry). We are becoming increasingly dependant on machines of some kind to aid every aspect of our life. It’s become more than a matter of sending information or transferring human bodies; we have actually reached a point where our technology thinks for us. Have you ever used a calculator? All you are doing is instructing a machine to analyze and reason through a problem that you are too lazy to solve yourself, or perhaps, unable to solve. Allowing an emotionless machine to replace human thought, or worse, surpass it, is simply admitting to the inferiority that humans have to their own mechanical creations.

The integration we see between humans and the technology they create is a tangible example of the main flaw in our species, the one factor that will cause our destruction. We were granted the ability to reason. We were also granted an intelligence superior to that of any other animal; we were given an intelligence that grows. According to scientist and author Ray Kurzweil, our smarts grow at such a high exponential rate that “we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress.”[1] However, this “progress” will in fact lead to the destruction of human beings, at least in terms of a species. We will create artificial intelligence that not only thinks for us, when we tell them to, but robots that think on their own. With this level of technology, there are a few different options for our pitiful future, all of which will effectually end us as a species. Perhaps our bodies will devolve to a state of such physical uselessness that we are forced to combine with technology in order to survive. Perhaps our own creation, our dear technology will revolt and we will be faced with a highly powerful army of pitiless creatures who cannot feel pain and operate on deadly reason. The array of scenarios is huge. However, it is obvious that in the near future, the intelligence in our technology will surpass us, resulting in our unhealthy dependence on or submission to it. While generations in the distant future may still exist (but likely in the binds of robotic forms), they will cease to be humans as we know it, for they will lack the instincts of pity and compassion and such elements that are essential for our humanity.

This idea of losing our humanity and worsening ourselves ties in nearly perfectly with one of Rousseau’s main points. He states explicitly in the text that in taking “so many steps toward the perfection of the individual, [we move] in fact toward the decay of the species.”[2] This same idea most definitely applies today. By using our rapidly growing intelligence to build more and more advanced technology, all for the purpose of self-perfection, of perfecting life through the use of our rapidly improving technology, we are creating a society in which our humanity is slowly decreasing. We are becoming slowly dependent on emotionless machines that rely solely on reason. If we allow ourselves to become too intertwined with the machines we create, we will allow these intelligent robotic forms to think for us completely. And remember, robots think without emotion; a decision is weighed only in terms of reason. Rousseau was adamant in his belief that a civilized man is a man developing in the wrong direction; he is a man drifting from his natural instincts, such as compassion or pity that make him truly human.


[2] Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. Print.

 

 

10 Comments
  1. joshuacy permalink
    November 3, 2010 9:46 AM

    Okay, it’s possible, Judgment Day could be right around the corner. As soon as we invent a machine that learns, it’ll get smarter (at a geometric rate) until it develops consciousness. Then, because we’re humans and they’re machines, they’ll take us down because we aren’t nearly strong enough to fight them. Or maybe they’ll be docile learning machines who don’t try to enslave/nullify the human race. Maybe we will become (are?) too dependent on the machines for our survival.

    But what do you suppose we should do? Are we fearful enough of a technologically dominated future to throw out our laptops and smartphones?

    I’m not.

    • smcunn permalink
      November 7, 2010 10:09 PM

      I wouldn’t go that far. It really doesn’t matter if you’d like to toss all your technology; the society we live in really won’t allow for it. All I’m suggesting is that we are headed down a dangerous path. Right now, I think we’re at a good point with technology; a calculator can think for me, but I know how to do the equations by hand, too. In today’s society, technology gives us shortcuts and convenience. However, I think it could evolve to a bad place. Google has confirmed that they use driverless cars. A self-driving car that I can also control is fine with me, but a self-driving car that doesn’t have a manual mode isn’t. You know what I mean?

      The problem is, I’m not sure we can stop, or slow down, this accelerated development of technology. I don’t think the world would ever collectively agree on such a thing. There’s too much competition and greed among different countries, and anyway, most people would ask, why stop? I guess it’s one of the world’s many unsolvable problems. But I can promise you, when cars don’t have a manual setting, I will be biking.

  2. adamarcher permalink
    November 3, 2010 10:33 AM

    We must remember where we have come from as a species, it is important to remember our history and our innate human desires and emotions, however, there is alot of bad that went along with the good that can be traced from what one refers to as “essential humanity.” Is it really even bad to let go of those things in the transition to a new age of “humanity?” The sole reason that we will experience “20,000 years of progress in the next decade” is because we will have at our disposal the sum total of all the technological acheivements we have made up to this point. To further progress we need to fully use all of the tools at our disposal. After all, they are ours, we as a race have made these technological advancements, making them more a part of the human experience than most people will ever realize. Leaving behind the trappings of humanity seems a amall price to pay in exchange for the progress that awaits with the full embrace of technological innovation.

  3. changmc permalink
    November 3, 2010 1:55 PM

    The rate at which mankind makes technological breakthrough is astounding. As your posts pointed out there is definitely a concern that we will rely so much on technology that our own humanity will fade away. Your post contains allusions to movie like I-Robot and Terminator where indeed the robots do turn against the creators and man versus machine takes place. However, we also must remember some of the upsides to technology that keep people more connected than ever before. I feel that interactions with technology can help people feel closer and it has the great ability of expanding a person’s social network ie Facebook. At the same time if we look at a medical route, technology can help those who are disabled feel more human again by giving them back the ability to move. Just like most topics, technology is a double edged sword, but in my opinion I think the good outweighs the bad.

  4. Nick Weeks permalink
    November 3, 2010 8:22 PM

    I disagree, we as the creators of these technologies will have the ultimate control over it, and the technology will only be as intelligent as we can make it so it will be at the same level. Also, on the issue of technology replacing our emotions, what about graphic art? or animation? i mean who didn’t cry at Toy Story 3? that technology provided a deep emotional reaction in humans. Also, we use technology to discover and enrich us, i mean now with your iPod you can experience mozart anywhere and not have to go to a concert hall. Technology will enable us to discover and explore new frontiers and it will expand our knowledge.

    • smcunn permalink
      November 7, 2010 10:22 PM

      With no disrespect intended, I would like to disagree with you, Nick. For starters, even today we have machines that can commute mathematical problems that humans cannot. Already, machines have been given the ability to think for themselves. Right now, we can control their intelligence. However, I think we must consider the possibility that this will not always be the case.

      We are creating robots that cannot only think for themselves, but can learn, too. By giving an emotionless, errorless machine the ability to learn, you are removing your control over its intelligence. By allowing it to independently think in the first place, you are making its loyalty to you questionable, for it now has the ability to decide not to be loyal to you. It is my strong belief that we will reach a point where our own creations are intelligent enough to have the ability to choose whether they will show us loyalty or not. When they can reach the opportunity of a choice, we lose control. We lose control of machines specifically designed to do things that humans cannot do, which means we are potentially creating our own destruction.

      I am not stating this as an unavoidable outcome; it is merely a possibility (and my own belief). Humans have the tendency to be self-destructive (atom bomb, anyone?), and to overestimate their own capabilities. I wouldn’t put it past us to create a robotic race of superior creatures, and then grant them the ability to turn against us.

  5. mattwax permalink
    November 4, 2010 3:50 AM

    Much of this argument rests on one’s opinion as to whether or not Rousseau’s natural man is to be desired. Such a life seems to offer little more than stability. Granted civilizations have caused a great deal of damage to humanity but to take away all of what we know today, I am just not sure I’d ever be ready for such a life. I do agree with Nick Weeks in that humans create the machines, therefore we are ultimately in control of their actions. A world that is so dominated by technology is a thing of science fiction movies. So technology has brought about some evils, but surely our advancements in the fields of science and medicine have brought great good to man.

  6. Katelyn Salowitz permalink
    November 4, 2010 8:56 AM

    Technology, constantly evolving, much quicker than humans are, is hard to grasp at times. The newest gadgets tend to throw one off guide occasionally, but technology has improved most peoples’ lives in many ways so that people are living longer and better lives. Medical advancements alone are keeping our grandparents and those injured in deadly accidents alive, recovering, and mostly doing well. I personally would not want to say good-bye to all of these luxuries. However, on the opposite side of things, I have to agree with smcunn, technology is getting a bit out of hand in some respects. I often frown at the person who cannot leave the room without their cellphone or ipod. Would it be a sin to interact face to face with real people sitting across from us without constantly checking our phone to see the latest score of a game or a facebook update? I don’t think it would be a bad thing to get to know one another again, face to face, without technology. While this example is small in the range of what technology can do, I believe it is the start of something that could be horrible. The very aspects that separate humans from other creatures are changing before our eyes. As Rousseau said maybe perfection is not what we should aim for if it will lead to the decay of the species.

  7. lrib12 permalink
    November 4, 2010 5:22 PM

    I think of this everyday! We, especially including myself has become interdependent on technology. Just think of the time when you didn’t have a cell phone. Now in days if you were to forgot your cell phone–highly unlikely–you feel lost and unconnected with word, sort of like an exile (a bit extreme.) Referring to Rousseau this interconnection, meaning technology is what could decay our species. These products and tools are so powerful that they could damage human life. Facebook and other popular social networking tools are one of the most power, influential devices in the world today.

    • smcunn permalink
      November 7, 2010 10:33 PM

      I agree completely. Technology discourages good old face-to-face conversation, while encouraging artificial dialogue, such as Facebook chat and constant texting. How many times have you seen two people sitting together, both texting other people? Because we have the ability to constantly communicate with people not in front of us, we miss out on real-life human interactions. Instead of laughter, we see “lol.” Instead of a genuine smile, we see a cheesy little emoticon. So many aspects of our lives are taken care of by technology; from navigation to basic math, we rely on a machine to think for us. Should we drop human interaction into this growing pile?

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