Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Backsliding Into Tomorrow

One extreme vision of tomorrow comes from Michael Chorost’s World Wide Mind. He sees the future of the Internet as linking all our minds with actual connections into our physical brains. Some may welcome his idea as progress. Others, even if they fear this intrusion, probably still view the computer as the path for humanity’s progress. But is the computer progressing?

Computer software actually used to progress because programmers learned from the past and created better methods and techniques over time. That was then. Now, I find many examples where programmers seem to have forgotten what everyone used to know. For instance, twenty-five years ago, I could shut down my Windows 3.1 leaving my MS Word program open with a number of documents. When I next started the computer, Windows would automatically open Word with all the documents. But I haven’t been able to do that since Microsoft “improved” their operating systems.

Despite our fond wishes, progress is not a given. Don’t take my opinion, here’s a quote from one of the smartest computer pioneers:

“The simple faith in progress is not a conviction belonging to strength, but one belonging to acquiescence and hence to weakness.” —Norbert Wiener, Human Use of Human Beings

In our desire to “go along to get along,” we are adapting to whatever nonsense the machines produce. In our anxiety to buy these machines, we learn what we must just to use them. Thus we’ve adapted.

As a result, The Machine gains the upper hand—but not through any superiority. Machines do not need to be smarter as long as we keep adapting. If they can succeed without the need to be smarter, then why expect them to be anything but stupid? Therefore, instead of using these machines for progress, humanity is regressing. Is this the slippery slope into slavery? Our future is fast losing its options; we may exist one day only to serve The Machine. In the end, will digital trump biological?


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