Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Future Options


The effect of Gresham’s Law on software (last week’s post) need not be our future. Software companies might change their ways and make machines smarter. Won’t happen. Letting software devolve is more profitable (in the short-term).

This choice between smarter or dumber machines is but one option for our future. Science Fiction shows machines taking over. In reality, people are in fact working on this. They think increased power (Moore’s Law) means superior intelligent machines are inevitable. (Wrong; power does not equal smarts.)

They don’t say anything about us becoming an inferior species and serving the machines. They don’t realize using superior machines must make us subservient. They can’t see these machines will be controlled by a few with the real power: money. How naïve!

Fortunately, not many believe in the likelihood of this inhuman future. Unfortunately, those who do are directing massive efforts and resources that could be put to better use. For far less, we could have practical computers actually benefiting everyone.

Jaron Lanier’s recent book, Who Owns The Future, describes a different path to our virtual enslavement. He says the networks controlling information, acquired at little or no cost, become richer as more of us pay for more access. This concentration of information will reduce jobs, destroying the middle class.

This dystopian future is already happening. Lanier offers a formula for an alternate economy, but will it deter the current juggernaut? Note these massive networks also have smarter computers. Another path to dumber computers for the rest of us.

My plea for better software is simpler than Lanier’s remedy, but neither is strong enough to resist the enormous forces already at work. Yet, you and I own hardware powerful enough to fight this—if we had software to match.

Instead, we’re being sold down the river. Literally. Search engine software doesn’t find for us; it sells to us. Dumb software doesn’t serve us; we must adapt to it. And bad software keeps updating; getting dumber every day.

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