‘Sometimes I sits and thinks and
sometimes I just sits’ – A.A. Milne
Like Nicholas Carr, I, too, am disturbed by that prospect of someone deciding for me that I will be “better off” assisted by an artificial brain, a “HAL-like machine” that is “smart as people—or smarter.”
When the machine is “smarter” than the human it serves, will it still subordinate to the human’s wishes and whims? As Carr recalls in his article (Is Google Making Us Stupid?), the fictional HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey tried to send its human to a “deep space death.” The human succeeded in outmaneuvering HAL, “calmly, coldly” disconnecting it while the machine pleaded plaintively for a reprieve.
Today’s real cyber-servants are becoming commonplace, accepted, and even necessary to daily activity, while their creators strive to make them more HAL-like, ever-present and integral to everything we think and do, while reporting our wishes and whims — to who? Who will be privileged to know what I want even before I do? I don’t want or need somebody or something deciding how I will be better off. Certainly, I don’t need for third parties to have privileged access to my needs, desires, and weaknesses, to exploit my vulnerabilities, or to place their interests ahead of mine.
Human history is full of examples of the privileged exerting dominion over the non-privileged. Is “HAL” just another way to perpetuate the same power differentials that have always existed, or do these technological developments herald the creation of a new type of privileged class, one that may not even be human?
We have become the Jetsons
It’s not a greater quantity of information or quicker insights that stand between me and productivity; it’s the same clerical barriers that have always existed, but taking new forms. Instead of pushing a stylus into a tablet, I am pushing buttons to synthesize documents that I need for my work. The most modern tools impede my progress by imposing additional barriers. I can’t just convert my creation to a pdf format, as I did a few years ago, with a few keystrokes; the software servant demands authentication before I can access “the cloud.” With multiple roles, I use more than one “cloud,” and there is confusion in the machine. Problems that I had solved years ago regress to a more modern state and demand undue time and attention, if I can solve them at all. The machine is not my servant any more, if it ever was.
While it is convenient to have access to information upon command, I have never thought that I needed to speed up, to skim lightly over content so I could “cover” more. On the contrary, I long for the luxury of time to ponder. Flashes of insight, and, indeed, all deep learning, are the result of time, space, action, and even inaction — a pause for contemplation, while knowledge percolates, and its essence is distilled into new awareness.