Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Midterm - Human Nature Vs. Technology

Throughout the first half of our class, we saw many different views of how people perceive the effect of technology on nature and vice versa. A writer like Thoreau proclaims that, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us” (Joy 10). Many of the writers we have focused on agree with this point of view, showing technology as a driving force to the demise of nature. The work in which this is most evident is Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I believe the line between technology and actual human nature is being blurred so much that it has become hard to differentiate between the two.

In real life and in many of the stories we have read, people are completely dependent upon technology. Dick’s book opens up with Iran and Rick Deckard using their mood organ to program their mood for the rest of the day. We see Iran using the organ to program a six hour depression for herself while her husband is away at work. Through this passage in the book, Dick shows that people, incapable of making genuine feelings, are forced to use a machine. This mood organ also allows the people using it to share their feelings with others. The machine replaces a natural, human event with technology, and instead of sharing feelings with people verbally, they just use the mood organ to transfer feelings. Another part of technology that the colonists in Dick’s book cannot live without is the android itself. This is seen when everyone who migrates to Mars gets their own personal android for free. The technology is not just a nice invention that could make something a little easier, but a necessity for everyday life. In the world of 2021, technology is not just part of human nature, it is human nature.

Dick continues to play with technology and human nature by not distinguishing between humans and androids. The only person throughout the whole book who we find out is a genuine human is Phil Resch. He mixes up our opinions of who is and is not an android by throwing in different ways where the various tests used by police could fail. One example of this is for schizoids, even if they are completely human they will show up on the Voigt-Kampff test as androids. “‘The Leningrad psychiatrist,’ Bryant broke in brusquely, ‘think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If you tested them in line with police work, you’d assess them as humanoid robots’” (Dick 36). This plays a big part in blurring the line for Deckard because he believes he is human and that he passed the test when it could really be a false memory given to him when he was commissioned. “‘Our trip was between a mental hospital on the East Coast and here. We’re all schizophrenic, with defective emotional lives—flattening of affect, it’s called’” (Dick 159). Another way the author confuses readers is by giving the androids false memories. This plays a big part in blurring the line for Deckard because he believes he is human. He thinks that he passed the test, but the reader knows that it could really be a false memory given to him when he was commissioned. The only way to know for sure whether a character is a human or an android is with a bone marrow test. In the text, there is never a bone marrow test performed; therefore, we can never be one hundred percent sure if anyone in the book is a human. Many authors share Dick’s thoughts on what technology could become if it is unchecked.

An author who has the same fears of what technology could become is Bill Joy. In Bill Joy’s essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, Joy lays out multiple problems that are being presented to us due to technology. He starts by listing his incredible credentials and then jumps right into why he fears technology is going to ruin us. One of the main parallels between the threats of technology shown is nuclear war. Both Joy and Dick show that they are extremely worried about the threat of a nuclear war followed by a nuclear winter. While Joy talks about how we should have put a stop to the production of the nuclear bomb, Dick shows what the world will be like after a war where nuclear bombs destroy Earth. ”This ownerless ruin had, before World War Terminus, been tended and maintained. Here had been the suburbs of San Francisco, a short ride by monorail rapid transit; the entire peninsula had chattered like a bird tree with life and opinions and complains, and now the watchful owners had either died or migrated to a colony world” (Dick 13). Joy fears that without some restrictions on technology the future of the Earth might end up as Philip Dick predicts in his book.

One place where Dick and Joy do not totally agree is technology’s effect on human nature. On one end, Dick shows technology completely destroying human nature and leaving nothing but radioactive dust. Joy, on the other hand, thinks we need to alter our human nature to protect our future on this Earth. Joy proposes some sort of Hippocratic Oath for scientists and engineers. “Verifying compliance will also require that scientists and engineers adopt a strong code of ethical conduct, resembling the Hippocratic oath, and that they have the courage to whistleblow as necessary, even at high personal cost. This would answer the call - 50 years after Hiroshima - by the Nobel laureate Hans Bethe, one of the most senior of the surviving members of the Manhattan Project, that all scientists cease and desist from work creating, developing, improving, and manufacturing nuclear weapons and other weapons of potential mass destruction”(Joy 11). This was one of the few solutions Joy offered to solve the problem of the incredible danger technology presented. Joy thinks that if we do not alter the way we create and use technology that human nature will eventually be reduced to an emotionless state as depicted by Dick.

On the other side of the spectrum, a writer like Haraway believes the increase in technology is a good thing. She shows a list of objects with two extremes, such as nature and culture going into fields of difference. Her view of technology takes a much more optimistic approach showing boundaries between certain extremes being blurred to the point where they don’t exist anymore. “In this attempt at an epistemological and political position, I would like to sketch a picture of possible unity, a picture indebted to socialist and feminist principles of design. The frame for my sketch is set by the extent and importance of rearrangements in world-wide social relations tied to science and technology” (Haraway 161). She talks about a possible unity from the old hierarchal dominations to new networks called “informatics of domination”. She does not believe technology will destroy the future, she believes it will alter it in a positive direction. Even in her view of a positive direction the difference between human nature and technology will be blurred.

We have been shown two different extreme views of whether the advancement in technology is a good or bad thing. While people like Joy and Dick show it as a bad thing I believe that it is a good thing. As an engineer, I’m focused on making new technologies that improve people’s lives. With this in mind, I believe that the increase in technology will only help with the ease of living. Sure, people can use new technology for bad things, but people can also use it for incredible good things.

I believe that in the beginning of time there was a clear line between technology and human nature. Technology was used a little in everyday life, but not to the extent that it is today. There were times when people spent most of their time outside, rather than sitting inside on Facebook or watching TV. The Internet used to be only for the military. It was not until recently that it was actually used widely by the public. With the commercialization of the Internet and the advancements in things such as artificial intelligence, technology and human nature are quickly becoming the same thing.

Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968

Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century." Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. 1991

Joy, Bill. "Why the future doesn't need us." Wired 8.04 Apr 2000 12 Oct 2008 .

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your introduction is interesting, but I'd like to understand the shift you make between addressing "nature" and "human nature" here - this could have used a sentence or two.

Your discussion of DADES of electric sheep is fine, even genuinely good in some ways. What concerns me initially is how you're going to make the leap back from the book to your general claim - you aren't indicating any initial way of showing that Dick's *fictional* world reflects accurately on *our* world. You start to make a credible connection by bringing in Joy, of course: Joy fears that the world will become like Dick's imaginary world. But this doesn't directly address your particular claim that technology and human nature blur - what you're now discussing is the destruction of nature... So the same difficulty that I saw in the introduction persists through most of the paper.

I'm unclear on how Joy wants to alter human nature. Does the hippocratic oath (the ordinary one), for instance, alter human nature? What about other professional codes of behavior? I don't follow this part of your argument.

I'm not sure what you're doing with Haraway - it's too abrupt to make sense to me.

Your last couple paragraphs fall flat. You are defending technology, but without engaging with any of the authors you've brought up - you state disagreement without detailing it.

In most ways, this is a reasonable essay - you read DADES and Joy well (Haraway, not so much - it's too abrupt, if not actually wrong), but ultimately there is a central confusion here. Sometimes you're talking about the possibility of technology destroying nature, sometimes of technology blurring with human nature, and you don't articulate what these two concepts/problems have to do with one another. If you'd solved this problem, this might have been an A paper, but it's not quite at that level with this fundamental confusion/contradiction running through it.