Having spent seventeen hours on public transit of various sorts yesterday, I had plenty of time to read. My chosen book for this trip was Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse. In my recent reading spate of dystopia novels Wilson’s vision seems more likely than others and thus perhaps a bit scarier. An obvious reason for this is that much of our tax money goes toward military projects that are, naturally, secret. A large part of Robopocalypse deals with military robots gone feral. Well, not really feral. The robots are controlled by a mastermind computer virus. In the first chapter this robot overlord declares to its creator, “I am your god.”
That statement is probably, metaphorically, true already. We live in a world where culture would change irrevocably without our current technology. Without it even fewer people would be reading the words I daily post here. Without it industry would shift into reverse back to the days of Thomas Edison or Eli Whitney. Present-day culture would be unrecognizable. Although not the best-written novel I’ve read, Wilson’s story does raise a salient issue—at some point the tool becomes the master of its user. For many years those who loudly proclaimed the superiority of Homo sapiens declared that we were the only tool-making animals. Subsequent observation has, of course, proven that to be inaccurate. Nevertheless, once knowledge of tools is acquired a trajectory is set. We lose a little bit of control.
Has technology replaced God? For some it clearly has. God is a symbol of comfort and meaning. As I watch thumbs busily texting away on planes, trains, automobiles—and especially in the middle of lectures—I realize that this altar of technology boasts many worshippers. There are very few scenarios where advanced technology is not present, like an omniscient being. Thankfully we have a few more years before Raymond Kurzweil’s artificial brain comes online. We should use those few remaining years to prepare ourselves for either an epiphany or an apocalypse. When the slaves become the masters, we are firmly in the territory of dystopia, at least from a human perspective.