Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hello, Dave.

NPR's When Robots Attack: New Mythologies for a New Age?

Adam Frank nicely poses a question for the mythopoeic crowd in the article linked above.  I guess I'd resist the notion that there's a new mythology and test the claim by trying to push back on it to see if we already have this myth covered.  Are there myths of creations destroying their creator, for example?  Myths of non-sentient things gaining sentience?  It would be interesting to take this on and see where things come out.  Another possibility that comes to mind: Is this just a manifestation of the death wish?  But whether we conclude that the form or substance of the myth is not new or not, we can still appreciate the new cultural guises and search for the meaning of the myth.  What does this say of our culture?

One thing that annoys me (possible massive understatement), is the new tendency for the digital voices we give to things, such as message services and alarm clocks, to say "I."  Do we not see the danger here?  I doubt the possibility of the emergence of consciousness from machines, and further wonder if the surface meaning of the myth could be a deadly distraction: have we so easily and quickly forgotten our tendency to dehumanize others and turn them into things?  Rectification of names, people!  If we confuse things with having selves, we're ready to confuse selves with things.  Once we do that, we will not flinch from snuffing out the "thing" that pleads, "I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over... Just what do you think you're doing...? ...I am afraid."  I wish there would be massive consumer reaction to this, so that companies would stop assigning agency and personhood to our machines.  Maybe the myths will come to our aid here, before it is too late.

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