Man has come a long way since the prehistoric period when he fashioned rocks into useful tools to hunt for food. Through the ages, he has continually sought improvements that would improve his way of life. This insatiable quest for improvement led him from one breakthrough to another, eventually paving way for the Age of Enlightenment in which science was aggressively pursued. Today, science has come full circle with the proliferation of technology, improving the way we work, communicate and live.
In recent years, we are seeing the age of robotics entering the scene. While there is still much room for improvement in this area, we see a future wherein robots will pervasive in our society. In Daniel Chandler’s discussion, Technological or Media Determinism, he talks about how technology is shaping us and not the other way around. Early thinkers such as Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Carlyle supported this view. While some believe that technology is inseparable from other aspects influencing man’s well-being, Reductionist thinkers believe that technology is but one component influencing man.
An example to give clearer meaning to these beliefs is the hi-tech age of communication. Holists see mobile phones as changing our relations with other people, creating a market for mobile applications, politically empowering people through with the power of information and economically differentiating people into classes. On the other hand, Reductionists see the mobile revolution confined to the aspect of technology (and economics, maybe), and therefore do not see its powerful influence in society. Regardless of how people look at mobile technology, what is undeniable is that it has made our world much smaller yet more impersonal with this revolution in communications.
“I, Robot” and “The Matrix”
Recent sci-fi movies show how robots and other high technologies have shaped our ideas of the world to come. Computers rule the game in the movie “The Matrix”, wherein Neo, the main character of the film, is the prophesized hero who will save society from destruction from an apparent system that has created a parallel world in cyberspace. The dystopian world has placed man a far second to computers in terms of strength and clout which Neo foils with his team of humans. Neo is in fact a computer program, which is itself reinforces the dystopian thinking that computers and machines will eventually have an existence of their own that is independent from man.
The same happens in the movie “I, Robot” in which we see robots being built by man to replace human cops. In the period of space age thinking, robots replacing human tasks are thought to be the norm and are in fact thought to be ideal. However, as one shall see in the film, the robots become powerful as their programs empower them to go against humans.
Although we are still ages away from realizing this event, the fact that it is already being talked about and seen in the media is enough to spur serious debate.
Is It Inevitable?
Any scientist will agree that changes in technology can only advance and never regress. We are now in an age where we are seeing smart appliances that are integrated in homes and in the community. Although some societies are far from this advancement, the truth is every nation is striving to get there. But we have to solve age-old issues such as providing basic needs of the community, empowering people, strengthening political and societal systems. By working at these areas, societies move on to bigger challenges which eventually will include technological adaptation later on. As nations improve, so will technological systems advance.
Are we better off with technology? Yes and no. It may make life easier for us, but it will not guarantee a safer and more humane society. Technology has a way of isolating people from each other. We would rather chat online than do a face-to-face discussion with a peer in the office. Emails do not have that personal touch as a correspondence done in long hand.
But it is helping us in ways we never imagined could happen. Technology used in the field of medicine has given us wonderful breakthrough results in finding a way to detect cancer as well other serious diseases. Manufacturing has benefitted immensely with the use of robotics, providing much needed supply to consumers. And the list goes on, and it can only get better as we push towards a world of computers. It is not necessarily an ideal world—a world which has become given to materialism, greed and even violence.
Far From An Ideal Society
Plato and Thomas More would probably have been disappointed at how society evolved. A far cry from the Utopian society envisioned by both, it has become dystopian to say the least. But apparently, technology has become the saving grace, making lives easier for us. It is unlikely that computers will rule over us just like it did in the movies; we are too cunning for that. For us, we will always remain focused towards that idyllic society, and never really coming close to achieving it.