Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Into the Darkness

There's something deeply sentimental about the world of Star Trek. It's a vision of the future that might have been prophetic if not for the exponential curve of technology. If humans weren't already changed so much by technology, we might be able to really believe that a ship as powerful as the star ship Enterprise would be commanded by a person like James T. Kirk, a cool white dude who charms the ladies, kicks butt,  and crashes the ship every movie.

But the technological advance that would make a ship like that possible would need computing power unencumbered by the judgment and sentiment of a slothful human brain. Star Trek: Into Darkness would have been real short if HAL was running the show. Opening scene: Spock is in the volcano. Closing scene: Spock dies in the volcano. The end. Kirk would be nowhere near the controls.

What's the matter, Dave? Are you burning?
We persist in creating these computer-designed worlds where we are still masters of computers, yet many of us can't live now, in 2013, without our phones.

Thought experiment: Think about how painful it was the last time you lost your phone. How traumatic was it? Not having your data backed up feels like losing a close friend. Even if you;re data is retrieved, the experience is bittersweet, clouded by the doubt that maybe there was something lost.

We've transformed so much of our lives into data that a hardware crash feels like a death. The Ponce Deleon's among us cluck their tongues and lecture about flash drives as if they carried the water of eternal life. We're still waiting for that Lazarus device that will raise us from our purgatory of stored data after bodies have gone away. We're tripping. 

We employ a four character code to gauge the intelligence of our children, our most precious source of intellect. The test doesn't test our ability to feel, to empathize, to create--all of the qualities that will ensure our survival. Tripping.

Spoiler alert: We're not going to "win" against the computers, and that might be okay. It all depends on the types of computers that we create and award intelligence. Far too many of the most powerful computers in the world are used to kill or enslave people.

But what if instead of making our computers really good at killing and controlling humans, we used them to increase our capacity for understanding among all forms of life? Not just what's out there in space, but what's in our own hearts? 

And what does that look like? I'm not sure, but I know James T. Kirk is not involved.

What is involved is experiencing more of our lives without pictures or videos or dead screens. Put it down, turn it off, put it away. Take your headphones off and talk to that person who makes you nervous. Say hi and upgrade your emotional technology. 

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