I got sucked into watching the Super Bowl this year, against my better judgment. The 2014 version of this pinnacle American cultural touchstone featured an advertisement—the Tearjerker of the Game—touting the magical miraculousness of technology, which can make a mute man speak and a deaf woman hear.
This is miraculous, of course. (Ain’t technology great? As long as it’s workin’.) But Microsoft’s monumental genuflection does not ring true. They pitch technology for its own sake, as if it were the root of all goodness and the extremely smart people who bend its power to their altruistic goals have nothing to do with it. It’s creepy, like the computer HAL taking all the credit in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A few days before the Big Game, I saw a New York Times story—more like an advertisement—about Google Glass, the future-is-now eyewear that beams the Internet through a prism into your retina from half an inch away so you can spend more time watching the artificial world when you should be watching the real world.
In our confused culture, this is considered progress.
While you’re pretending to engage the person right in front of you, you could glance up at the sky and get a weather report, watch the end of the Big Game, check your stock prices—or even stare at the hot chick down the street, take her picture, video record her and find her Facebook page in the blink of an eye. See? Creepy.
The Times adverticle announced a “medical stamp of approval” for this device, owing to a marketing agreement between Google and a major insurer. Never mind that insurance companies routinely approve of things that defy medical necessity and safety as long as it suits their bottom lines.
I don’t need a high-tech bullshit detector for this one. Beyond the pathetic slapstick of people walking into poles while Miley’s latest impish indiscretion tickles their retinas—or the not-so-humorous specter of people committing vehicular homicide when they ought to be watching the road—this development cannot be good for humans.
Microsoft says technology “empowers us all,” but on balance, I agree with Nicholas Carr’s 2008 argument in The Atlantic: Our webby world is actually making us stoopid. We can’t sustain conversations anymore or read long articles (let alone books) or comprehend complex logic or even just plan ahead, because our minds are constantly conditioned to think in the impoverished terms of text messages and video clips.
It’s a sinister synergy of converging trends. Soon, you’ll have the option of wearing, tattooing, implanting or ingesting your personal connection to the vast and putrefied electronic nipple. We humans are no longer satisfied to have machines do for us; now, we want them to think for us or even be us. The voice-activated Google Now interface is “aware of your surroundings and tries to figure out what you need before you actually ask for it.”
Sound familiar? Google Glass is just like modern cars that do all sorts of things on their own (whether you need them or not), or driverless cars that do everything (without you telling them to). No surprise that some of the same people are behind both enterprises.
Sergey Brin, one of the original Google Gods, once put this capstone on it: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”
Sorry, Googlefolk, I’m certain that I would not be better off, and I don’t need your machine to think for me. Your artificial brain might do its times tables really fast and beat me at Scrabble—most of the time—but it will never be as smart as mine. Your artificial intelligence is, by definition, inferior to my human intelligence.
My human brain is smart enough to perceive the real reason you want to replace it—artificial intelligence is much more easily commodified. The more addicted I am to your relentless flow of information, the more marketable details you can mine from my behavior, the more money you make.
My human mind’s eye can clearly see that technology that replicates itself hyperbolically in pursuit of infinite profit is a cancer. For every rich white guy who can make a machine speak for him just by looking at it, there are a thousand poor people dying from technology’s poisons, and a million species suffocating beneath the unsupportable weight of billions of superfluous machines. No matter how many tearjerkers interrupt the Big Game, an inherent truth of technology is that it sacrifices millions of life forms to satisfy the irresponsible, insatiable indulgences of one.