My computer is behaving badly this week. It’s not anything I’ve done. I haven’t stuck my tongue out at it. I haven’t kicked the thing. It’s having a fit on its own and I’ve got 3 experts working on the problem. That a computer can upset a person’s life in a nanosecond is nerve wracking, as anyone who owns a computer knows. That’s why, I stopped to read a long, long article on rapidly changing technology by Sam Frank in a recent Harper’s . (“Come With Us If you Want To Live,” by Sam Frank, Harper’s, January 2015, pgs. 26-36) It proves that not only does technology constantly change but it does so at an exponential rate.
The goal, according to Frank, is to create a “beneficial-slash-benevolent AI [artificial intelligence]” (Ibid pg 28) which one day might lead to immortality as mind merges with robot. That’s a big leap into the future, of course, but we seem to be on our way. Certainly, language has changed to accommodate the new technology. A “hedon,” for example, has nothing to do pleasure. It’s an experiential utility. Likewise, a “utilon” is the new term for a utility unit.
Unfortunately, to stay connected to the web-centered world, we are obliged to change with it. That doesn’t mean in our language, only. As Frank explains eventually “The old institutions may largely break down or they may be handed over [to the new order] but either way they can’t just freeze.” (Ibid pg. 32)
One utopian web designer Frank interviewed elaborates further. He predicts that politics as a form of social structure will one day be passé. The new “stabilizing force will be corporations, which will become even more like parts of a global government than they are today. (Ibid, pg. 35) Facebook and Google and other “technocracies” will be the drivers of widespread abundance in a decentralized internet where every users is “his, her or its own mode.” (Ibid pg. 35)
I’m not sure what a “mode” is but already I don’t like it. Nor do I approve of this new vision of the future. Do we really want a world of “distributed autonomous organizations” ([D.A.O’s) or “modular decentralization,” whatever this means — particularly when these are instruments that enable corporations to pursue greater profits with no concomitant ethical or moral codes?
What also gives me pause is that this brave new world is being conceived by designers who are predominately male. What, I wonder, will be a woman’s role in the new order? One young Turk is ready to define it. Women, he says, “could be the prostitutes and the bedrooms could be mic’d with baby monitors in case of productive pillow talk.” (Ibid pg 34) His is a sophomoric view derived from computer games which few women would consider an improved status. I’m beginning to think the reason my computer behaves badly is because some guy designed it.