Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Old Man in the Cave

The Old Man in the Cave

By Bobby Neal Winters
It’s happened.
They’ve taken over.
The computers, I mean.  They’ve taken over.  
I am writing this on a computer, so you might think that I’m being brave to call them out on it, but they are so ensconced they don’t care.  When the Nazis were in Paris did they mind it when the French acknowledged they were running things?  Of course not.  Same with the computers.  When you say they’ve taken over, you’re just giving them their props.
If you admit it early enough, they might let you live.
I’ve known for a while, but spending an hour and a half on Facebook this afternoon drove it home.
Ninety minutes of clicking on “Like” and sharing things my friends had put on their walls that no one I know had originated.  The question came to me whether anyone had originated them or whether they had simply bubbled up from the bowels of the Internet.
We’ve become Facebook fanatics, cellphone slaves, YouTube yutzes.
I am old, old enough to remember Star Trek the original series in new episodes.  There was a character named Harry Mudd who was a bit of a scoundrel.  He wound up on a planet that was populated by robots who were intent on taking over the Enterprise.  When asked how they would do that Norman, who was the robot leader, said, “We will help them.”
Computers are tremendous tools.  
There was a day when I had my lectures on notes and I taught by transferring those note to the board.  Then came PowerPoint and I put those lectures on PowerPoint.  Now I project them onto the screen rather than copy them to the blackboard.
One day I went into the classroom and the computer was down.  My first thought was that I would have to cancel class.  It was only after great mental effort that I was able to remember that I actually know this stuff.  I found the chalk and proceeded to lecture the class.
It was a powerful moment of self-discovery.
We are humans and one of our defining characteristics as a species is that we use tools.  Tools extend our reach.  We organize our activities and this extends our intelligence.  Yet there are trade-offs.
When travelling between airports in Latin America and the US, one notices a difference in the level of organization.  Airports in the US are much more user-friendly.  This is more than just a difference of language.  Airports in the US flow more smoothly from the point of view of the traveller. It is more relaxing because it requires me to use less of my own intelligence to get around.  The intelligence had been taken from the traveller and transferred to the design of the airport.  
This reduces stress, of course, and I am not going to suggest we make our airport less transparent.  But we’ve been giving things we know over to machines and environmental structures for years. We are living in a world where we require machines and organizational structures--that we don’t understand!--simply to exist.
Can you build a computer?  
Very few of you can answer that yes.
I can, but that is only true because others have organized a computers production to be as easy a putting together tinker toys.  
Those who can do that are ever more rare.
Are world is being designed by an elite that is getting rarer and more remote.  Our thoughts, our likes, our dislikes are being monitored, analyzed, and catalogued.  We are just the batteries that are running the Matrix, eh, Coppertop?
In the Twilight Zone, there was that episode about the old man in the cave who told the survivors of the nuclear holocaust how to live their lives.  When it was discovered that the old man in the cave was a computer, there was an uprising.
While that was an insightful series, that ending was false.  We’ve know the old man in the cave is a computer, and we’ve done nothing.

Odds are.  If you are reading this, it is too late.

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