Thursday, August 30, 2007

Why the Future Actually Really Does Need Us After All

Graded Blog Assignment #1

As a quick aside before I start, I'm going to just point out that I don't engage in politics. I don't care for politics, politicians, or policies, I don't vote, and I don't keep abreast of what's going on in the geo-political spectrum, so with that in mind, please forgive me if I comment on your blog and miss any sort of political point you were trying to make. I'm not smarmy, a republican, or a democrat, I just don't really like politics. Anyway, on with the show.

Marcuse, in his quote, seems to say a lot about how terrible liberty and choice is. He's really got his panties in a bunch over his perception of what is a control over supply and demand in multiple formats. In response to Marcuse (and also to a lot of the topics raised in Why the Future Doesn't Need Us), I feel that what they're commenting on really isn't any different than things have always been. Ford, way back in the day, could crank out a Model T car in 93 minutes. That was in 1914, and it was done almost entirely by hand. They didn't have robotics or anything fancy like that. They used conveyor belts and hand tools. 93 minutes. If it's anything to say for Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, it now takes about 25 hours to build a car. Yes, I realize that cars have come a long way and that there is significantly more stuff involved in building one of them here in 2007 than in 1914.

What I'm trying to say here, though, in regards to Why the Future Doesn't Need Us is that, even though technology becomes more sophisticated, we still need able bodies to employ this technology. BMW has one of the most technologically advanced production lines in the world, but employs over 100,000 people. Are we really ever in danger of building ourselves into such a hole that we can't dig ourselves out?

Joy raises some excellent points in his article, such as saying that "People won't be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide." In a lot of ways, this is happening now. So much of our business and way of life relies upon the internet and other technologies that to disconnect would virtually cripple things. However, Joy later goes on to paint us a dystopian vision not unlike the world of The Matrix. Machines capable of independent thought, rebelling against their creators, and enslaving us lowly human beings.

What I say to Joy, however, is that if we created these machines, couldn't we also destroy them? There are people out there who can create computer viruses that can render a personal computer completely dead. Any computer system, any piece of technology has flaws. The most expensive hard drive in the world is just a useless piece of metal if you stick a magnet next to it. Human innovation and the ability to improvise is second-to-none other, and there's a reason that machines can only hope to emulate it.

To get back to Marcuse, and sort of relate the two, as well as bringing home the point about the Model T, Marcuse complains, basically, that everything revolves around money in a capitalistic society. Corporations compete with each other to produce similar producs at a lower or equal cost, newspapers censor themselves so as to alienate the least amount of people, and so on. Yes, the goal of capitalism is to make a buck. Yes, it's kind of a bummer that everything in life as you know it revolves around the dollar bill. Corporations are enhancing technology, streamlining the production process to make goods faster and more efficiently, and therefore, cheaper.

This enhancement of technology does create the things Marcuse talks about in his essay, and it could theoretically cause the situations Joy outlines in his article, but are we, as a race, not capable of overcoming our own creations? While it's not up to me to solve these problems, we've done pretty damn well so far.

I hope that made sense.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

As a minor opening point (from someone who used to say the same thing), just because you try to reject politics doesn't mean that politics will _ever_ reject you. The human world is inescapably political, and escaping that reality is more easily said than done...

Does Marcuse think that liberty and choice are terrible? Not exactly; he thinks that what appears to be liberty is often really domination, and that the trappings of liberty (especially, yes, of the free market) can be manipulated for tyrannical purposes.

A curiosity: you equate Henry Ford - stereotypically perceived, with some reason, as one of history's great revolutionaries - with the way "things have always been." Why?

The issue with your reading of Joy is similar to, but on a larger scale than, your reading of Marcuse. You portray Joy as being worried by artificial intelligence and large, autonomous machines - ignoring his discussing of GNR technologies (Genetic Engineering, Nanotechnology, and Robotics) -- only the third relates to your discussion. You ignore the small-scale problem which actually draws most of his attention. The G & the N don't need, by their very nature, the sort of human intervention that a factory requires, which is a large reason for his worries.

The long and short is that you are making broad generalizations of questionable accuracy about both Marcuse and Joy; Joy, especially, answers _every_ question and problem you raise (which isn't to say that you are wholly wrong - just that you needed to be much more engaged with what he actually _says_).