Today I saw “Welcome to the Machine,” a documentary that looks at the impact of technology on human life and delves into discussions about the future of technology and society.
Most importantly, it begs the question: how far is too far?
The film was very well done, interspersed with clips of old and new technology, discussions of past developments and those planned for the future. Many discussions revolved around robots that may express emotions similar to humans; one subject argued that humans themselves are machines, quite literally controlled by chemical reactions in the body that thus must lead to the creation of emotion, which would theoretically then be possible to develop in artificial intelligence.
Many of the subjects, including professors from MIT, authors, philosophers and culture critics, were optimistic about the advancement of technology and its impact on society.
One subject put forward the idea of having tiny mobile devices the size of cells, thousands of which could be put into your blood stream, allowing you to do things like “Google” information from your brain and spew out research seemingly from your own mind.
The more optimistic side of the debate sees technology as a natural progression and extension of our selves.
The film artistically contrasted scientific history as well as Biblical history to show both the optimistic and pessimistic sides to converging technology and humanity. While much advancement has made life easier, historically departing from nature as been viewed as sinful (for example, Adam and Eve sewing clothing).
Some argued technological developments would lead to the end of the human race.
The film asks, “Will humans just become the machines that run the machines?”
The director argues that you cannot restrict some technologies and not others – maybe restrict access, but not the development of technologies, which complicates methods of control.
The film followed three stories: the director’s experiences with IVF and the birth of his triplets; a blind lawyer undergoing experiments to regain his vision; and the US military operating unmanned aircrafts to save both time, money, and human life on dangerous missions.
Interestingly enough, the director saw technology as a good thing in the early stages of making this film. Despite undergoing IVF later on in the filmmaking process, which led to the birth of his triplets, the director said that by the time the film was finished, he held a pessimistic view of technology.
The film discusses the lengths to which society could go to preserve its humanity.
While some argue that technology cannot be stopped, the director converses with Dr. Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” who sought violent efforts as a way to discourage technological development. He wrote “Industrial Society and Its Future,” also known as the “Unibomber Manifesto,” arguing that humans were less free with the inclusion of more technology. Inherently, Kaczynski sees the technological system as a hole that needs to be destroyed to create a society that is less dependent on technology.
(Ironically, he is being held in one of the more technologically advanced prisons on the planet).
I felt uncomfortable during the film. I had never thought about how far technology would develop or the theories behind the relationship between technology and humanity, (although I have always used technology at a pretty basic level).
The director states at the end of the movie that, in life, “you can’t take the batteries out – you only have right now.” That sense of urgency, of life, of having only a moment and then losing it to history forever, is a feeling that I believe no artificial intelligence or piece of technology could ever understand.
Then again, I took notes on my Blackberry after the film and typed up my thoughts to be shared on the Internet, so who am I to talk?