Thursday, August 30, 2007

"When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?"

(The title to this comes from my favorite author, Chuck Palahniuk. You've probably heard of him. Or maybe you’ve heard of Fight Club. I found it oddly fitting, despite the fact that I don't mention him anywhere in the blog.)

Blog Assignment 1

Let me start off by say that I, Tim Allen, love my iPod. I take it practically everywhere. Do I know where it came from? Certainly not. It could have been (and most likely was) made in some factory located in the states where workers were paid more than fair. Or, it could have come from a factory outside of the states, where some small child was paid minimally for long hours (as doubtful as I find that). Or, maybe it went down an assembly line in some factory where different robots slowly pieced it together.

What I’m saying is, I really don’t have any clue, but my desire to own an iPod greatly outweighed the means in which it was produced. That is not to say I support outsourcing or slave labor, but it just goes to show what is most important in my life.

If it was produced in a factory in the states, awesome. I fully support providing work for the people of our nation, and I just hope that whoever made it didn’t encounter harsh working conditions that involved smog and a hellish working environment. I want an iPod, yes, but I do not support putting the worker who makes it through awful conditions just so I can have it. Certainly the factory where Apple has the iPod produced is no steel mill, but who is to say that it isn’t close? I don’t have a direct testimony from someone, but it’s quite possible that working for Apple sucks. That’s just the way things tend to be. You work for a big corporation, and your rights will most likely be abused. As was the case at the Bethlehem Steel Works which was the second largest steel producing mill in the nation during World War II.

As for the other scenario (the one that didn’t involve small children working long hours), what if a robot had made my iPod? That, to me, is somewhat frightening. If we have come to the point where robots are producing goods for us, how long until we make it to where they can potentially think, as proposed in Bill Joy’s essay? I don’t expect the need for miniature Will Smiths running around in order to save us, but is it really possible for us to get to a point where robots can think and do our jobs for us? I hope not. But I do believe that we could possibly come to the point where this is happening. It would be like a mix between I, Robot and Minority Report. Hopefully more like Minority Report, where the technology was being used for good (until the part where the one creator… nevermind, this involves spoilers). The potential for this situation going wrong is very high. As Joy points out, what if we were to become subservient to the machines? Would it be possible to escape from their rule or would we eventually fade off as we became less of a necessity and more of a hindrance?

As far as that goes, I am clueless. Needless to say, I do not look forward to having to deal with such a situation. So, for the time being, I pray that my iPod was made by a well-paid, American worker, rather than a robot that will one day rule the world.


A. Benevent said...

I love Palahniuk as well, so it was very refreshing to see a quote from him.

Anyway, I think you've really captured the idea of just not knowing what lay ahead for us that Joy was hinting at in his article here. It's sort of almost like the Cold War, where we know that things could just go terribly wrong and the entire free world could end and, oh, nuclear winter or whatever other apocalyptic shit happens.

At the same time, though, I would like to think that as a race we have enough foresight to notice when things are starting to take a turn for the worse and kind of put safeguards in place. Neither I nor Joy know what these safeguards are, but I'm sure there's something (I hope there's something).

And just for the record, iPods are made in China, but that doesn't stop me from owning one, either. I even paid an exorbitant fee to get it fitted to my car.

Tim said...

For our sake, I hope we would know when enough was enough...!

Adam Johns said...

Strange. I do remember commenting on this, but the comment certainly isn't here.

Anyway, Alex beat me to the bunch in telling you that ipods are made in China. In this country, you'll seldom go wrong guessing that we make nothing other than software and pizza (a reference to the SF novel Snow Crash).

Anyway, on a more serious note. Your opening quote is powerful, and closely related to all of our concerns. Had you then struggled, in the context of Joy (or Marcuse, or Davis, etc) to actually answer that penetrating question, that would have been a very worthwhile and stimulating response.

What we have here, though, is a tangent - almost a ramble - which nearly ignores the actual content of Joy's essay. Joy only touches upon artificial intelligence, after all; he's also greatly concerned with nanotechnology, etc., but you're not even attempting to engage with the details of his text. Instead, you're making a couple half-accurate generalizations about its content and responding to them.

Do more with the actual text -- bringing in the Palahniuk in more detail would have been a great start.