Future Society Essay

Seriously i do. my college admissions essay was about hermit crabs.

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Shumaiya Khan

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, whether it be about using a phone, e-mails, wireless networks or having numerous aliases on social networking sites.  Technology has changed the way we communicate with each other and to a point, ourselves. Who are we without all these extensions of the self? Does technology trigger us in the same way religion can in terms of explaining our reasoning and experiences as society not only learns to grow more at a faster rate but also becomes more apathetic to physical labour?

Amongst the masses of material possessions we own, the percentage of machinery is steadily increasing. The average home will consist of a microwave, fridge, kettle, toaster, washing machine, boiler, television, radio, mobile phones, chargers, laptops, digital alarm clock, CD player/other audio equipment, remote controls and DVD player, amongst many other things. All these possessions that work due to implanted microchips are slowly taking over our homes and becoming a part of “us”. In fact it begs the question what are we without technology and will technology ever be at its peak?

“By around 2020 a $1,000 computer will at least match the processing power of the human brain. By 2029 the software for intelligence will have been largely mastered, and the average personal computer will be equivalent to 1,000 brains.”, so says Raymond Kurzweil. If this could be possible for processing equipment, what will become of other technological devices such as cars, fridges, and mobile phones?

The film Minority Report” is filmed using real people with numerous concept ideas on how the world could have or even will have developed by 2054, so everything we see we think is real or could possibly exist in life. This includes things such as user interface and interactions between software and people, as well as; how technology has expanded into every part of our lives, even cars in the way autopilot can take full routes instead of just keeping the engine and speed up, as well as how everything can be controlled by a state. Fuel exchanges and gravity have all been developed to be used in additionally different ways, e.g. more spaces being used vertically seeing as horizontal spaces are vastly running out. Even now in the present day and age, sky scrapers have been around for over the past half a century.

Microsoft’s Kinect system has already been used to create an interface like the one that stunned so many in Minority Report: initially imagined in a short story by Philip K. Dick, when it was created as a film, Spielberg’s interpretation lit a new path in software research. Bear with this video demonstration while it processes through the references to The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Minority Report‘s main focus is about the police state, and how it has developed to the point where even before a crime is committed, it is seen via “3 pre-cogs”. This concept in the film raises questions such as in the future will we have developed a 6th sense? Also raises questions on what is actually desirable to us? Once something has been presented to us, we tend to realise its potential downfalls and errors. A world without crime would be to me personally interesting as I believe everything needs balance, however by using a combination of superstition almost and technology, there are numerous opportunities for flaws and hackers as every technological system has to be tamper/future proof to keep working without faults and carry on providing coherent results.

“The world already dreams of such a time. In order to actually live it, it only needs to become fully conscious of it” Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord.

To become aware of what you want and then doing it are two different actions that need to work together. This could be used for many as reasoning into our lack of personal progress. However can also be used when demonstrating a “team” or “group” effort. What is more is that an organisation’s confidence and power can be increased as its numbers increase, eg. any popular political movement, such as Nazism. This theory works by an organisation realising its ambitions and potentials whilst playing them against the opposition; this is known as propaganda. How does technology come into play with now and future times when trying to persuade a society into a decision? If you look back at “Minority Report”, the audience is given numerous possible outcomes on how society could be, starting off with how things could benefit us, the amount of technology used can be overwhelming but is welcomed as technology may be seen as “progress” as it’s a continually developing aspect of life. If an organisation can somehow build in technology and its benefits added to the organisation’s agreeable beliefs, you potentially have the start of a new society.

Media, e.g. films, photos, animations, games, virtual worlds all take your mind into a completely different place, sometimes when you can be whatever character you choose to be, where we can die numerous times and be restored to health no matter the damage. How does this affect us mentally? Do we someday want to in reality live forever and are we slowly being desensitised to real life scenarios as we’ve probably already experienced them in a virtual world?

“We imagine our physical bodies are ghosts that live in houses, our bodies are machines our minds live in”.

This raises a question of are we machines and if so, how much can we programme ourselves?  There’s a nice echo to this statement in how machines will always use other machines.  “The human body produces more energy than a 120-volt battery, and 15000 BTUs of body heat. The machines have everything they’d ever need to survive.” neatly summarised in The Matrix. A point to focus on; if the body can produce so much heat and energy, how else can it be used other than for personal everyday actions? Are we starting to raise machines in similar ways to which we bring ourselves up? When will the time come when we won’t we able to differentiate between machines and humans? One way to look at it is by thinking, we are machines because we’ve been taught from a young age to understand various concepts around norms of society. However we tend to teach ourselves technological advancements to try and keep an understanding of who we are, however whilst society has changed humans have invented newer processes that we have grown dependent on, and just like machines, we need to be looked after and programmed to take things on board to live a certain type of life. This raises another argument of nature vs. nurture. The nature: i.e. wanting, self-intuition, and subconscious actions. The nurture: being taught, external influences, (in this case sprouting from media influences, propaganda, conditioning from a young age), usually tying in with traditions and cultures we’ve grown up with.

Does the virtual world desensitise ourselves to actual real life events? In fact which life becomes real, the one in which we choose what roles we play within already set out cyber parameters or the one in which we have to use our entire being physically to survive?  There are numerous films are illustrate potential damage to the psyche such as Inception.“Dreaming is now their reality”: drugs create a ‘wishful reality’ that is used to drive certain behaviours (or programming in the machine metaphor), which have become a necessity when we no longer know how to conduct ourselves in the real world. Reasoning and explanations for this almost sound like drug addiction. So is this what designers try to do? Get us hooked onto a certain concept, because if the concept works the product should sell. Technology is vastly approaching the stage where it is seen a new religion that provides faster and in a more physical state than traditional religions that have been used in the past. Could technology be seen as the next generation’s religion? Could designers (as well as engineers, scientists, etc) be the God of this new religion?

We have had to realise that the material possessions we own can’t just home in on one aspect of human need, e.g. physical interaction: we need to incorporate things such as emotional attachments and mental interactions, some of which are traditionally provided by ‘religion’. It could be argued that religion provides us with explanations of things that can’t be explained yet. My reasoning for this is down to humans wanting to discover more, it’s almost as though technology is the new religion that can be used by everyone and somehow is becoming more of an essential part of our lives, feeding the conceptual algorithm that technological advancements are no longer the niche but the necessity.

Scene from Ghost in the Shell (攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai), Mamoru Oshii, 1995.

The film Ghost in the Shell focuses on how the human body can be altered, programmed and replaced, and possibly how this could happen in the near future as an actual future date is given. This was a Japanese manga comic back in 1989 where such technological advancements were only just being drawn upon and products such as the mobile phone had just entered into a mainstream market. To present alterations to the human body especially through medium of animation is to tamper with the mind, programming an audience to start thinking about possibilities and demises of how machinery and non-AI technologies could help or ruin humans. The animation also goes into such presence around emotional over technological experiences, often questions of “Who am I?” and various other emotionally resolved questions are asked by the implanted soul, i.e. “ghost” in her cybernetic body. However are these questions asked due to the fact she has everything tuned to perfection physically, including her health “state of the art: controlled metabolisms, computer enhanced brains and cybernetic bodies” that she realises that she needs personal and emotional stability and knowledge of her “ghost” to make her a whole “human”, or to try and sustain a level of “human-ness” i.e. belonging. Here it may seem technology permits the user to be able to escape and use their body to the fullest of its potentials, however we’re faced with a question that may seem ironic to today’s society. For example, the current state of societies’ views: more technology will mean a more advanced and efficient world. The society in “Ghost in the Shell”: we have everything we need but a part of me is missing, emotionally and intellectually (taken from the film after the quote on what the cyber “shell” is made from and how it’s stabilised.). The later film that would be so heavily influenced by Ghost in the Shell it even borrowed some of its animation (the digital rain) neatly summarised thus: “To deny our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human”.

The film The Matrix focuses on the war between machines and human beings. It’s not only until you watch The Animatrix that your realise how this the type of society shown came to be.  Like a lot of films, including Ghost in the Shell and for example, Wall-E, it maps out humanity’s demise due to ambition, vanity and unsustainability. Looking back at my previous arguments to why media is used in such a way to present undesirable or troublesome fortunes, we could say the civilisation in The Matrix was created because of the possibility of machines out smarting and eventually becoming higher in value than the human being. It’s a similar concept to “a master shall never be beaten by it’s apprentice” or in other words, ‘creation”, or even the possibility of the 2 “bits and atoms” forging together.

“Another approach would be to send microscopic robots (or “nanobots”) into the bloodstream and program them to explore every capillary, monitoring the brain’s connections and neurotransmitter concentrations.”

Raymond Kurzweil.

Could machines help us to live for longer? As we see in “Ghost in the Shell”, the main character never dies as all her information can be uploaded and downloaded when desired.  The concept that a soul can be handled as physical matter and can move around freely even after the physical body no longer exists also poses the question when do we actually die and is it possible to live forever? As realized in Sean Hall’sDecember 1st lecture, “Society and Culture” when transportation was discussed, the philosophical view taken upon the matter was “if a body was to be copied, uploaded, transported and downloaded, which one is the original and what would happen to the copy?”/clone of said person? This kind of clashes with the Ghost in the Shell view of uploading the key elements of the body, such as the “ghost”, however it made me think, once the could has been uploaded, could there then be 2 copies of a soul? And potentially if the copy was to outlive the original, could this be seen as an extension of life? However if the original ghost can be uploaded and be hard to terminate in the first place, maybe it turns into a case about population growth.

Cryonics is a process in this present day, that involves freezing a deceased or almost deceased bodies, in which involves chemicals being pumped into the bodies lowing temperatures to under -100C. What this process aims to do, is increase the life span “of 1000 fold” and “give people a second chance”(Alcor Cryonics Foundation), by freezing the entire body’s functions and physical being.  Apparently this experiment has been going on for over 40 years and no method has been discovered waking the dead or almost dead yet. On a less commercial company backing note, waking the dead has always seemed of impossible nature, in fact would be described as a “miracle”, i.e. something that reiterates back to religion. However, look at the economical and moral aspects of what cryonics imposes: Where would we store these people and would they be able to contribute to a then society which would have moved on far more in terms of technology, mannerisms, education, etc? As quoted by Steve Jobs, “death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new”. In ways, the way cryonics provides ever-lasting life, backs up the argument that technology is slowly becoming a new religion, and somehow this religion allows the members to completely escape from previous known realities and regulations more traditional religions have previously put in place.

Either way technology is expanding at rates faster than any other developments that have previously taken place in the world’s societies, and there will most likely be a day when we will merge in with machines and technology to the point where there’s no clear line between human and machine. With this brings it the possibility that we will no longer need religion, but in that lies the threat of The Singularity: a point in time where having created machines that are smarter than humans, they decide that they no longer require our services.

Shumaiya is in her Second Year of BA Design at Goldsmiths, and is a DSC for Design too. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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