Updated: Dec 14, 2020
I recently viewed an incredibly informative documentary called The Social Dilemma which was about the need for humane technology. I agree with the film's tech industry producers, that technology is capable of wondrous innovations, but that there is also a need to get it out of the business of manipulating user's attitudes, behavior, and data for profit.
I am not the kind of anti-tech person commonly known derisively as a Luddite, but I find it useful to understand exactly where the term comes from. The Luddites were originally textile workers in the early 19th century who were concerned about having their jobs taken over by machines. Sound familiar? It should. And now we are not only in danger of losing our jobs to machines, but also of sacrificing our humanity and our relationships on the altar of technology. The slow and steady infiltration of Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, dishonest and divisive social media, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and of course robots into our lives and homes is evident in the onslaught of commercial content on streaming TV. (The other concerning thing is the high volume of pharmaceutical drug ads. It appears that there are a lot of ill people which makes me wonder if the two are connected, but that's another story.)
On my 2020 album, The Presence of That Absence, humanity is the absence present in the eighth and final song called Robo-Girl. The song is intended to be humorous, so laughing is encouraged, but the truth is that robotics is increasingly emphasized in our schools, and robot companions are a reality in various stages of development. It's bad enough to objectize people as users, but the end game seems to be actually replacing people with robots. There is a good example of this slippery slope in a commercial where a woman addresses her digital assistant saying, "Alexa, tell Roomba to vacuum the living room." The point being, that in this exchange, only one out of three participants is human.
But wait a minute! Why not? What's wrong with that? Robots will perform as programmed. They won't give you any sass. And when you're done with them you can turn them off or replace them with a newer model. Does it get any better?
The Social Dilemma made it clear to me that technology is evolving about a trillion times faster than we are. Based on our current trajectory, what would Darwin say is destined to be the dominant species? And will we eventually need to redefine the term "species" to fit the new hybrid realities awaiting us?
My hat is off to the technology professionals with the courage, wisdom and integrity to acknowledge the situation and work proactively for humane technology. Thank you for helping to keep hope, a distinctly human virtue alive!