Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fearing the Future You Embrace

I love science fiction and all the creative technologies and scientific advancements that so often go along with it, but the fact of the matter is that I'm a technophobe. I'm not so bad that I carve my posts into stone tablets and have Alex transcribe them for the blog, but I am exceedingly cautious and skeptical and resistant when it comes to the Next Big Thing that's supposed to revolutionize our lives.

It took me several years to sign up for Facebook. Up until a few years ago, I didn't trust any websites enough to do any shopping online. I think Blu-ray actually makes movies look worse than they do on DVD. I resisted getting a Nintendo Wii with its newfangled motion-sensitive controls until Capcom conned me into buying one by releasing Mega Man 9. The iPhone, iPad, and Nintendo DS all bother me because of their preoccupation with touching things.

I held on to the same cell phone for seven years because (a) it worked just fine, and (b) I wanted no part in any of the fancy features that made every new cell phone more like a mobile computer. I can't stand laptop computers, no matter how convenient they are. I refuse to wear any kind of headphones that plug directly into my ears. I went out and bought a traditional toaster because my family's brand-new toaster oven was unsatisfactory at making toast, for crying out loud.

I've heard people talking about an all-in-one microchip that could be implanted in your arm with your personal ID and credit card information so can buy a subway train ticket by just swiping your arm over a scanner as you get on board. No, thank you. Too many forseeable problems with that one, not the least of which being that thieves will have to start cutting off your arms to steal your wallet.

Plus, I saw that episode of Stargate: SG-1 where a whole race of people became infected by some computer virus or something because their minds were literally connected to their equivalent of the Internet. Unless I've got a bionic arm that can grab onto rooftops and ledges from a distance, I don't want anything technological as a part of my body. At all.

I read recently that civilian space flight is quickly becoming a reality. An expensive reality, but a reality nonetheless. I would love to travel into outer space. I won't have anything to do with space travel unless I'm going up in a NASA shuttle with professionals or unless the vessels and pilots involved in commercial space flight have had more than ample time to prove themselves trustworthy.

Suppose some big, reputable corporation announces tomorrow that they've perfected the kind of transporter technology they use on Star Trek. Human beings have been beamed back and forth between locations all over the globe with no risk or injury whatsoever. This would be the coolest thing ever. Maybe, if I live to be 100, I'll consider giving my grandkids permission to try it out once they're a few decades older.

As for hyper-advanced robots or computer AI handling all the most important facets of our everyday life? No way, man. Does the name "Skynet" mean anything to you? I've seen enough science fiction to know that everything will go wrong if your computer becomes smarter than a Link5th-grader. Your robotic butler will kill you in your sleep, and it won't be long before all the machines build their own nation called Zero One and start using humans as an energy source.

I just watched a movie with Bruce Willis (he's a cool guy, but he ate all my popcorn); the movie is called Surrogates, and the premise is that basically everybody in the world has a thoroughly lifelike avatar that they can control by setting themselves in a chair and hooking up their minds to the machine. These so-called surrogates can be designed according to the user's aesthetic desires, so if you're the Wicked Witch of the West, you can get yourself a surrogate who looks like Cameron Diaz, and that will be what you look like to the rest of the world, because nobody leaves their house once they have a surrogate to do everything in their place.

This might sound a little implausible on paper, but the movie did a pretty good job of convincing me that such a reality was entirely feasible. More importantly, the movie did a pretty good job of demonstrating how such a revolutionary technology would change the world, and how it would affect people when something went wrong.

Because something always goes wrong. Yes, it is the nature of movies to have a conflict that drives the story. And, in my experience, it is the nature of technology to malfunction. Point stands.

The benefits of having a surrogate are tempting, though: A chance to be 100% satisfied with your outside appearance; perpetual excellent physical health; protection from fatal accidents--after all, if your surrogate gets eaten by a sewer alligator, you can always get a new one. (A surrogate, that is.) Who wouldn't want one?


I am the savage living in the lighthouse. I am the naysaying scientist who gets killed off first because he warned everybody that something bad was going to happen. I am the one guy on the planet who doesn't take the superhero pill the Skrulls are giving away.

I am all about dishwashers and electric razors and airplanes and escalators. I don't fear technology. I'm wary of change for the sake of change, because I'm usually pretty happy with the way things are. I'm wary of the misuse and malfunctioning of technology, especially technology that fundamentally changes the way we as human beings live and interact with the world.

My favorite quote from the movie Jurassic Park pretty much sums up my feelings on this last point:

John Hammond: "All major theme parks have had delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!"

Dr. Ian Malcolm:
"But, John. If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists."


AJG said...

The only relevant thing I can add to this post is that Surrogates was a comic book before it was Bruce Willis-ified on the big screen.

Oh, and that, in your case, a surrogate wouldn't be necesarry. Or plausible, really, since you're a clone.

zharth said...

I more or less share your approach to technology. While I think it's great, I'm in no rush to go out and buy the newest thing. I'm a student of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought.

That having been said, this surrogate idea is one of my greatest dreams, and I would gladly take dangerous risks to try it out. :D

Flashman85 said...

Well, zharth, what would you have your surrogate look like?

zharth said...

That is a question I've spent some time exploring the answer to in Second Life. As tempting as it would be to don the appearance of, say, a xenomorph (imagine how much more fun/scary Halloween would be with surrogates!), ultimately my desire would be to satisfy my own vanity. I would bring my anima to life, and become a pretty girl. :o