Yes, we can do anything we dream of. Should we?
“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.” When author William Arthur Ward uttered those inspirational words, he probably thought he would stir the creative among us to build flying cars or to lift ourselves up economically or to develop enough content for the three television networks he could watch.
And while Ward’s vision of the future included us commuting to work on buses in the clouds, what we ended up with was 140-word rapid-fire missives and photos that evaporate in 10 seconds.
Weren’t some of us supposed to be dreaming of – and achieving – us into the space age?
I just attended a supply chain tradeshow that spotlighted today’s technology, which is poised to speed manufacturing and make our world defect-free. Robots at the show – designed to replace humans in artless, repetitive tasks – played Connect Four against attendees and spelled words using building blocks. It struck me that those are things my kids used to do. Until, that is, my kids got older, gained some experience and started taking on the more complex – talking back to their parents, for instance. Is that where robots are heading?
My wife doubts that robots are going to take over the world. It seems implausible to her that humans would allow every techno-apocalyptic vision of the future to come to fruition. Why would we give machines the ability to enslave us, eradicate us or turn us into batteries to power their mainframes?
Hollywood has given us enough of a warning. We’ve got Roomba’s and pet robot dogs – let’s stop there. Why would we willingly advance so far as to let machines realize they don’t need us (except as the before-mentioned batteries)? Why, indeed.
Texting and driving, that’s why. While the world may be divided politically, socially and religiously – I believe we reach consensus that texting (or emailing or social media-ing or checking sports scores) while driving is, to some degree, dangerous.
But we can’t stop ourselves. PSA’s, horrific stories of accidents and legislation haven’t stopped us. It seems that no law, logic or scare tactic is so compelling that drivers stop checking their phones every time they hear them bing.
But the good news is – nothing is going to have to stop us. We want to stay connected all the time – even behind the wheel – so the wheel we sit behind will soon be under someone else’s control. And we’ll give up that control voluntarily.
We’ll give up control of our vehicles to the machines – so we can keep hunting for the perfect emoji to punctuate our quips. Of course, it will seem very pragmatic at first. Self-driving cars and smart traffic grids will mean that traffic jams will be a relic of a past culture. We’ll become more efficient and more connected. One side of the aisle will push self-driving cars because we’ll consume less energy. The other side of the aisle will push self-driving cars because it opens up an entirely new industry, supply chain and consumer demand. We’ll be efficient, green and profitable. Once we hand over our keys, everyone wins.
Hold onto your steering column for just a second. I don’t have to explain the inevitable slippery slope from self-driving cars to Skynet.
Maybe we’ve had enough tech advancement for now.
I’m sitting on an airplane right now and there’s a database somewhere that knows that I just ordered a Diet Coke and watched Taken 3. The same robot overlords that will manage our mass transportation and manufacturing one day will be in charge of doling out our meals and entertainment. Will I spend those years, subjugated to the machines, drinking soda and watching an endless stream of Liam Neeson movies? Or will the machines be advanced enough – once they are finally in charge – to understand the idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies of being human? (Or do I need to buy more beer with my credit card to bias the metadata?)
We don’t need to rush into a machine-controlled future. Not because machines are too advanced, but because they’re not advanced enough.
The last thing I need is for the web connection to start buffering when my self-driving car is passing a self-driving 18-wheeler on a two-lane smart road. Or to watch The Grey and Non-Stop on an endless loop because of recent On Demand selections.
Technology has accomplished some mind-blowing things – from deep space reconnaissance vehicles to the 3-minute pizza. A global, optimized supply chain wouldn’t exist without logistics and manufacturing tech. And – no question – advances in medical technology and disease eradication need to continue.
But maybe – in most walks of tech life – enough is enough. Does my refrigerator need to order my groceries from Amazon and have them delivered the same day? Do I need to monitor social media while I watch 3-D movies in surround sound through my contact lenses? Maybe for my kids’ kids, uploading their consciousness into a hologram of Tupac will be what they’ll do on a Tuesday morning.
Thanks, techies, but I’m good for now. And I’d like to think that by putting a pause on this development, that we’d be sparing machines from what the inescapable path to humanity means. It’s one thing for algorithms to manage traffic patterns – but for machine intelligence to reach sentience, machines would advance to the point of taking on human qualities – like fear, pettiness and jealously. If you think the world’s a mess now, imagine supercomputers dealing with sibling rivalry, daddy issues and performance anxiety. I can live with my smart phone. I don’t need it evolving into a smart-ass phone.
Of course, if I were a generation older, I’d probably be typing this on my IBM Selectric while listening to my 8-track of KC & The Sunshine Band shaking their booties. I know a little about supply chain optimization but less about the future of tech. So maybe I’m wrong. And I hope I am. And that someday our technology will dream about us and we can show ourselves how to achieve humanity.