It is easy to get caught up in technological progress, eagerly awaiting whatever technology has in store for us. But do we actually want everything that technology can do?
Apple is developing a truly self-driving car. Not just one that has lots of safety-helps and automatic features, or even self-driving capability with a driver as back-up. No, the Apple Car will not have a steering wheel or pedals. Passengers will sit along the sides, looking at each other across an aisle. And Apple hopes to have this product available in 2025, just four years from now!
Do you want one? Apologists for this technology say that computers will be far less accident prone than human beings, and they may well be right. But when you get into automobile, is your interest only in getting from one place to another? Don’t you like to, you know, drive?
Facebook has changed its company name to Meta, reflecting its new goal of creating the Metaverse. A combination of virtual reality technology with social media, the Metaverse would have you put on a helmet attached to your computer that would enable you to enter a digital illusion that would be a shared space with other people. Without ever leaving your home, you could go to work or to school or to socialize that would be just like being at the office or a classroom or a bar. (No more COVID worries!) You and your friends and colleagues would be represented by avatars, which you could customize anyway you pleased. (No more worries about your appearance!)
As Facebook/Meta Mark Zuckerberg describes it, the metaverse will amount to “an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.” (See our earlier post about the Metaverse.)
Do you really want to go inside the internet? Do you really want virtual reality to replace actual reality? Don’t you like to sometimes get out of the house? Don’t you like to interact with flesh-and-blood people? And be at an actual, as opposed to a compute-generated place?
Last week we blogged about the project of eliminating all risk, citing Damon Linker’s reflections on the upcoming automotive technology–required by the recently passed infrastructure bill–that will prevent drinking drivers from being able to start their cars. He observed that “the technology overrides the driver’s agency and stands in for his or her defective judgment. The machine makes the decision — like a parent or guardian assigned to babysit the human driver.”
Do we want technology that overrides our agency as human beings? That babysits us? That keeps us in line?
My sense is that we want technology that extends what we can do. Not technology that imposes itself upon us, or that creates conditions that we have to submit to, or that goes against the grain of our humanness.
I remember growing up watching The Wonderful World of Disney when it featured “Tomorrowland,” speculating about what the future might bring, specifically looking forward to “the year 2000.” Whether there or on some similar utopian forum, I read claims that our nutritional needs will be met by pills and squeeze tubes, making cooking and food preparation obsolete.
Well, now that we are well past the year 2000, we are no longer watching Disney go on about Tomorrowland. Rather, we are watching the Food Channel. We have become obsessed with cooking and food preparation–lauding celebrity chefs, entertaining ourselves with culinary cookoffs, and engaging in food tourism–and other aspects of “foodie” culture. We are not interested in getting our nutrition from pills and squeeze tubes because we like to eat. We like every aspect of eating–the flavors, the artfulness of good cooking, the social dimension of eating together–and we are not in the market for technology that would take anything away from that. We are fine with technology that helps us in our eating–food processors, high-tech applicances, ingenious gadgets–but don’t want technology that would get in the way.
At some point, nature and human nature always assert themselves.
So I don’t think sex robots are the “future of relationships,” as some are saying, or that we will buy cars without steering wheels, or that we will want to live inside the internet, or that Meta will be a good long-term investment.
Of course, I may be wrong. Maybe enough people will embrace these technologies, even at the cost of their humanness, leaving dissenters out in the cold of the real world. What do you think about this?