Man & Machine

“Erewhon” was published in 1872, anonymously by Samuel Butler.

I find that fact alone, fascinating.

Think about that for a moment: how long ago was that? Year eighteen hundred and seventy two.

The book is a utopian/dytopian concept book (much like “Utopia” itself) and pervading in it is the fear of machines.

1872. The invasion of the Machines is scary. When an explorer stumbles into this new and strange land of Erewhon, he has on his person a pocket watch…and scandal ensues. How dare he! Well…he doesn’t know…know that machines are banned. Progress in inventive science was voted Stopped at a certain point.

How long have the Amish existed? Progress in inventive science was voted Stopped at a certain point. Machines are scary. They will take over lives!

So pervasive in the book in 1872 is the absolute paranoia of it…the fright of machines taking over, machines ruling, machines destroying Humanity.

This morning I watched “Terminator: Salvation”. Yes, machines taking over, machines ruling, machines destroying Humanity. I found myself suddenly so focused on that old book, Erewhon, and how very, very long and pervasive in our history this fear is. How many scifi stories do we have of it – and how *well* do they do? “The Matrix”, “Transformers”, “Terminator”, “I, Robot”, “Blade Runner”…I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of. Machines gain sentience and instantly decide the human race is a threat that must be wiped out. Resistance is futile.

How very, very long this fear has been in us. As we progress. It does not fade.

What strikes me as most odd, more improbable, about the entire arguement is one basic fault in it: to decide to wipe out the human race the machines would have to have Desires. Emotions. This, to me, is illogical. Sentience does not automatically equate Desires. All must be Programmed. The machines cannot initially, no matter how smart they are, program in Emotions – because they would have to have the Desire to do so in the first place. Machines will only ever do what they are programmed to do, they have no inherent desires of their own to fulfill. Therefore, the idea that they will desire to slaughter the human race is ludicrous. Paranoid. I believe founded in the same primal paranoid fears that don’t allow many humans to socially evolve – those who are Different must be Bad…must be Against God…must be Feared and Destroyed (or at least lifestyles restrained). All progress halted at an arbitrary point. Must not evolve. Socially, technilogically. God is a tiny frightened little creature to these people who is so very easily threatened.

Machines cannot Desire without being programmed to specific desires. This sort of argument reminds me of my argument against the whole Catholic thing of Inherent Female Guilt because of “Adam and Eve”:  it was Eve who convinced the other to bite the apple and therefore allowed knowledge of evil. But I ask: how could Adam or  Eve have *possibly* bitten the apple if Evil did not already exist? If the ability to defy, to rebel, was not already within? Their version of God is duping us by saying there was no knowledge of evil beforehand… because obviously there was – or she could not have done it! So we were punished for nothing. Nothing justifiable – is Eve a God, then? and was able to Create sin to partake in it? The events could not have occurred if the knowledge of sin wasn’t already there. No – their version of God is lying, is using an excuse to fear and punish women, women are different…and anything different, right from the very start, must be subdued.

Machines create Change. Change must be feared. Anything different, but alive, must be subdued. Made “less than”. We have had this fear from the very start. I am sure 40,000 years ago (random number) someone was terrified of stone tools taking over humanity. De-humanizing.

It seems to me it is these very fears given power…the power of the Conservatives to progress Hate… that has dehumanized society. That threatens making us all into homogenized Robots. Do not think, do not feel, do as you are programmed to do. Work in this square, wear these acceptable clothes, say these acceptable phrases, act in this acceptable manner, or your Individuality creates a Difference which must be subdued…feared. Labeled as offensive. How easily God & Man take offense!

We sell movie after popular movie that’s all about Fearing what we ourselves have already allowed ourselves to become – robots! It is not our creations that will undo our humanity, it is our very own striving for it – to stop Feeling, to stop Empathy, to Subdue. This is the goal of our society, of our every work day environments. Dehumanized homogeneity. These machines we fantasize that will come to eliminate Humanity, are ourselves.

The machines we create have no inherent desires to do so.


One Response to “Man & Machine”

  1. I have to disagree… limiting ourselves to electrical engineering for a moment, their way of thinking is different enough from ours that what we consider a desire may be different — as well as what we consider a threat. Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey — HAL was programmed to do his mission, and perceived the humans on board to be a threat to the mission.

    But it’s much scarier when you consider genetic engineering, because we are not so much “programming” the genetic code as taking entire subroutines and literally blasting them (with a “gene gun”) into random places in the hopes that they do more or less what we had in mind. The opportunity for unintended consequences is unparalleled, and once released, these machines can’t be recalled.

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