The clear trend seems to be leading us towards greater, more personal, connection with ever more advanced and “intelligent” technologies. Examples being the transition from landline phone to smart phones. From the boardgames to the MMORPGs. But it’s also exemplified in the transition from library and postal service to Wikipedia and instant messaging. Technology is imbuing itself in a daily presence that we, as its consumers and creators, feel ever increasing demand to participate with it.
Some times I wish there was a reset. A sudden and complete reset of technology, taking it backwards into a time where we don’t need to be as connected. Like the apocalyptic future-scape films of the 80s and 90s. But the truth of the matter is, technology doesn’t go backwards. Sure there have been events in the distant past when it receded from broad use, like after the fall of Rome, but technology never completely disappeared. So what does our future look like?
I don’t know about you but I find myself in front of a screen more and more. I find myself interacting with a computer for most of my day now. But part of my increasing use of the computer coincides with it improving the quality of the experience. More and more I’m getting the information that I wanted in a format that works best with being a human. It makes me wonder if our future doesn’t turn out to be one of Skynet overlords or a Matrix or any of the other technophobic futures we’ve consumed with popcorn. I wonder if our technological future isn’t one of a far more beneficial nature.
The last search you made in Google gave Google as much knowledge as you received from the search results. Your iPhone has begun understanding certain spellings and words that are specific to you. Not to mention that our social networks are now providing us with recommendations of friends and connections. There’s something interesting in this. Essentially we should just admit, collectively, that computers are better than us at something very specific. They’re better at collecting and sorting through large amounts of complicated data. Traditionally this is what we’re good at but we also know that this isn’t everything there is about being human. Among other things, our brains are really good at filtering information in order to make clear decisions. We’ve evolved to be very good at self-designed information filtration. This leads to a joint effort. A symbiotic relationship. It leads to computers learning how to collect and sift and make logical recommendations. It means that humans get better and faster at our filtration system for decision making.
In this future, we begin to admit that we like our technology. We begin to understand that it has made us faster and smarter and removed the demand on our brains to do things the average brain isn’t so good at (storing and sorting raw facts). Around the same time we come to this realization, the computers that got us there will be understanding that they need us in order to get better at what they do (gathering, storing and sorting data). Maybe they will have the ability to act like us, be our friends, request information autonomously or even participate in our world but computers will, most likely develop into machines that strive for improvement and greater input. For this they will need us just as we’ll need them.
I wholly admit that this sounds utopian. I’m not saying it’s the future I wholly believe in. But I am saying that it’s a more plausible future than the one where technology acts upon our worst qualities and destroys or enslaves us. I’d rather have a computer that sees its role as a facilitator, storer, sorter and even creator of the information in my life, freeing me to experience, guide and participate in the world.
Since we can’t go backward let’s begin imagining what a good version of our future is and, whatever it is, start making it happen.