Thursday, September 16, 2010

Automata (15/30)

It all began here, but quickly spiralled out of control.

I have written about what makes a "cyborg" before, and it seems that my train of thought was actually in keeping with the current wisdom in cybernetics. It turns out that we're already cyborgs, we just don't think about it that way because we're waiting for our bionic implants. It just turns out to be a lot easier to upgrade your technology when it isn't hard-wired into your body is all, and it's going to be that way for a while yet. This, I had considered before, but I also encountered a thought that ran counter to my ideas about what the future could and should hold. Experiments are confirming little by little that not a lot of human action is undertaken consciously, and that we are often bad at understanding even our own true motivations. This I have always assumed is kind of a bad thing, guys, because I don't really like the idea that I have this one set of motivations that isn't necessarily guided by the morals and beliefs that I have chosen to adopt consciously. I don't like the idea that I'm not really in control of myself, so to speak. So I have assumed that any technology that could grant my conscious mind more control over my brain is a good and desireable one. It turns out that giving myself more knobs to play with might not make me into the superbeing I'd want to be. And here's why: the human attention span is pretty limited, and it's already pretty easy to lose concentration. The more processes you have to micromanage, the less time you'll have to think and think clearly. This article talks about the attention span problem in light of new augmented reality tech, but here's the kicker:

"No organism can afford to be conscious of matters with which it could deal at unconscious levels.”

I shouldn't really want to bother with any of this micromanagement crap, even if it were possible! Sure it's worrisome that much of me still runs on some kind of holdover animal logic or whatever...but that's fine. As long as the body is taking care of itself, my (conscious) mind is relatively free to wander as it pleases. If I had to actually think about every minute action, I would need to think much faster...and a whole hell of a lot of my thoughts would be really boring. I don't need that, nor do I want it. It feels a bit callous to say that I can live with most of my brain and body on autopilot as long as that means the part I do control and understand is free to operate, but I guess it's the best thing an abstract thinker can ask for? In some ways it isn't a lot different from being in a brain-in-a-jar placed upon an amusement ride. Maybe I can't steer, and I probably can't do much with the life support mechanism...but it's a good ride: I'm alive and able to think.

The promise of technology has in past eras been that of a reduced workload, that automation would remove the need for humans to perform menial tasks such that we might focus upon fulfillment of our bodies and minds. I think we need to be reminded of that promise from time to time, especially when the Blackberry has become a device which which will sometimes extend the chain attaching you to your day job, rather than set you free. I still believe that this freedom from the mundane and the rote is possible, and desirable.

So where's my robot butler, already?

oh wait, most of me IS some kind of robot butler for my conscious mind?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

- Alfred North Whitehead, Introduction to Mathematics (1911)

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