The first decade after the year 2000 is almost over. Not only are we not flying around in personal transportation vehicles we still haven’t eliminated the need for paper documents.
(I’ve done my part. The novels in my Martian Symbiont series are Print-On-Demand and available as e-books. Several thousand copies won’t get printed unless readers actually buy them, eliminating the whole reshipping, remaindering, and repulping process that’s still in practice with many traditional publishers.)
I was surprised the other day when someone expressed a bit of fear regarding computer technology. I grew up being exposed to theology that in turn both feared technology and made practical use of it. Rather than becoming a harbinger of ‘end times,’ it seems the computer has become what it was always meant to be-a tool that replaces many obsolete and bulky predecessors.
As an author I began to ‘be assimilated’ when I couldn’t find a new typewriter. I started out with a handheld computer, which wasn’t threatening at all. Instead it seemed more like a Star Trek gadget that was too handy not to use. Eventually I quit buying paper notebooks to write in. I didn’t even have to print a manuscript to submit it to the publisher. By the time I sent my second manuscript my computer was no longer fast enough to upload it to the site. A high speed memory stick did the trick.
If I had to go back to a typewriter I could-but I wouldn’t want to. Computer keyboards are generally easier to use unless you’re on a public one that’s had a taste of some kind of beverage. When those keyboards don’t short out they tend to have sticky keys. Now not only do you have a spelling and grammar program but there’s so much more you can do with your writing. Upload it to your blog, paste it to an email, send it to the boss, write a series…
I think my friend’s specific fear was of the cyborg variety, the idea of having technology inside one’s body. The idea that scared her is the concept of mechanical bits and pieces taking over a human being’s free will. We’re already familiar with the concept of drugs that can temporary alter a person’s behavior. It’s not that far a stretch to imagine technology that could do the same.
Right now we have pacemakers and a few drug delivery systems that give patients the right dose at the right time but mind altering technology doesn’t seem within the immediate grasp of researches and scientists. In western cultures, the very idea would be met with a storm of protest over the potential for abusing human rights and free will.
(A few modern theology students might see the barcode implants for pets as an omen of ‘the mark of the beast,’ and insist the use of these in some countries proves loyalty to the antichrist. However, there is currently no antichrist on the religious/political world scene and theology indicates that those who receive his mark will have to swear allegiance to him first.)
Some people insist technology will cross boundaries that will never be possible-a fault not limited to theologians. I heard there’s a new computer chip being developed that’s supposed to make people smarter. There’s a term we use for that: science fiction. At best, an artificial intelligence implant would be limited to repairing brain injury or illness, or helping a person think faster but not smarter.
I realized something similar when I started writing my Martian Symbiont series, which is part of the reason my Martian characters have a symbiont. It acts as a live interface that’s fond of intelligence and electrical current. Since no living creature exists (that we know of) to act as an interface for an intelligence chip in the brain we’re limited to other means of interfacing.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the adaptability of the human brain. It’s quite possible that even small ‘improvements’ of mental function would quickly be lost as the brain itself adjusted to its new component. Or it might reject it outright.
Besides, testing such a chip isn’t practical. Not only would it most likely be declared illegal to test human subjects, animal testing would be difficult. Never mind the protests, how would you come up with a way of testing an animal to see if it was exhibiting smarter behavior? Could you ever be assured the animal hadn’t simply learned what was expected of it? And what sort of tests would be suitable? Pet owners tend to think they have the smartest animal on the planet, but they don’t because I do. 😉
Computers are not to be feared although sometimes they cause frustration. I’ve long suspected the existence of an ‘idiot chip’ inside each computer. It detects the user’s skill and causes the computer to function accordingly, in a way that will result in the most irritation. Encountering someone who knows more about computers tends to switch off the idiot chip, a deliberate effort to make us all more adept at interfacing with our PC’s. It’s a plot, I tell ya…
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly