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The Soul in the Machine

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In his 1936 classic Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin alerts society to the dangers of excessive automation.

There is a famous scene where the Little Tramp is put to work on an assembly line and, after tightening screws for a long time, can’t stop repeating the turning motion.

The movie’s point is that modern industry is all about efficiency and output, with little concern for the workers. Chaplin saw rapid industrialization turning us into robots, triggering a massive dehumanization of society.

Fast forward 80 years. Although many of the automated operations in heavy industry are now performed by actual robots, the human integration with technology has moved from work at the factory to our individual lives. Granted, it’s not about assembly lines anymore, although those are still out there. If Chaplin were to remake Modern Times today, perhaps his concerns would shift to our individual integration with machines — and to what this integration means to society as a whole.


And what that means to society as a whole…


It’s almost like… there’s this entire genre of art… that has spent decades… imagining what that integration might be like…

What is it again?

Sci-fee? Sif-why? Oh right! Scifi!


Science fiction has been imagining the numerous issues of humanity’s interactions with technology for an extraordinary amount of time and in an extraordinary amount of ways. And you know when the going gets tough, some people look towards the bible. Well… in the modern world, when it comes to technology, always look to Science Fiction for answers and help.


I am going to just take one example because it seems like the most pertinent for all of the boobs who can’t stop complaining about people using phones…


The Bynar, first featured in Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), were a humanoid species that at birth had their parietal lobe removed and replaced with a synaptic processor by a surgeon.

The Bynar were all connected, as an entire species, to a central computer on their home world of Bynus. They seemed to speak, think, and work exclusively in their own form of binary code.

The Bynar are an example of what integration with technology would look like on an extreme scale (although less extreme than the Borg, but they really need a word stronger than extreme). That integration had a definite drawback as illustrated in The Next Generation episode 11001001… in that episode the central computer that the Bynars depended on was shutdown due to the electromagnetic pulse from a nearby supernova. Because of that sheer level of technological integration the Bynars had, shutting down the computer would have the effect of killing every Bynar.

The day was, naturally, saved of course by Picard and Riker who were able to restart the computer in a timely manner after its shutdown. The point here is that there are always drawbacks regardless. Nature gives out no free lunches. The Bynars enjoyed social harmony, unparalleled abilities to communicate, and a mastery of computers that went beyond other species… but with those positives came the negatives… in our illustration that negative was the danger of nature throwing a supernova your way when your brains are part mechanical.


How does that apply to us humans in the real world?


Well for one thing, it tells us we should occasionally tune out the people who think that simply looking at a screen and holding a hunk of metal and glass in your hand is the equivalent of being controlled by those things… it is exaggeration (or scaremongering if you prefer) at its finest. Using a smartphone does not make you a Bynar, a being susceptible to die at the whim of nature because of its reliance on technology.

For another, everything in life has a cost. Simpler times were not so simple. It’s all merely wishful thinking. Regardless of technological integration, there will always be problems. We aren’t at a point in society when we can even guess what our real world problems will entail… why stress about it? Watch more Star Trek, read less doomsday shit from Vice media.

I suppose it’s human, a choice between the knowns and the unknowns people will inevitably choose what they know.

Technology is scary for people.

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