In 1910, in the limelight of Chiarella Theater of Turin, the first manifesto of futurists was unveiled. A notable characteristic of this fiesta was a shift in the interest of artists. Futurism does not permit artists, extending to us, regular people, to “look upon man as the center of universal life”. To them, technology and machines are much more intriguing than men themselves, and they serve much better as inspirations. Arts were no more views of the observer, but observers in the center of art. To summarize, humans are no superior to the machines and technologies, and certainly, not more intelligent or interesting.
In fact, this warning of a technology-controlled future has been echoing for a long time. The futurists only whispered so implicitly, while many others stated with ominous tones. From the beginning of the industrial revolution, people had been wary about how working in the factories would slaughter people’s spirits, demonize them and breach their souls. Upon the invention of televisions, many people believed that it was a government conspiracy to control people by shooting mysterious waves through their displays. As refrigerator gained its popularity, there was a horror among people fearing how it does magic to the foods and makes them toxic. This skepticism has persisted through my childhood, when laptops, cell phones, and the internet percolated into people’s lives. Many said that they were evil distractions and ruined children’s health and minds—there were even “web rehabs” trying to keep children away from the internet. Now the arguments have extended to GMOs and climate changes.
Does this fear make sense, then? Looking back now, we can say with ease that refrigerators revolutionized our food industry while television, well, once an excellent family entertainment, is pretty much retiring now. How about energy crisis? It turns out that we would be running out of coal long ago by now. However, before we could run out of coal, we commoditized oil and before we ran out of oil, we utilized natural gas. The internet crisis? The parents who were keeping us away from it are very much depending it for daily work and lives. Before we noticed the “GMO problem”, most of the corn and many more crops are genetically modified to be pest-resistant and greatly improved agricultural efficiency. As a CS student, I am wide aware of how technology “controls” our lives. The essential part is very simple: algorithm. You think of an algorithm, you code it, then the machine executes it based on the previous algorithm you provided. Is there anything that is spontaneous or original? The answer is likely no. Even if the machine seems to be creative, responsive and able to do many complicated things, everything was, in fact, pre-programmed.
Not long ago, a comet probe “deep impact” hit the headlines. Its connection with the earth was initially lost after the intended collision. To locate this high-tech, literal-rocket-science probe, scientists just took many pictures of the comet and viewed them one by one, eventually visually identified this probe lying on the comet. Why did we go back to the old-schooled way of looking for stuff when dealing with a space traveling probe? That was because there was no algorithm pre-programmed for the machine, and it had no idea how to respond to the situation and what to do. From my perspective, in the future, at least in the near future, luck is on the humans’ side when facing the reign of machines–because of our spectacular abilities to think of algorithms. Thus, so far, the machines are probably still under control.