Technology and Its Discontents
Deus Est Machina
He turned to face the machine. "Is there a God?"
Back in the 1950s—before Colossus, before SkyNet, before The Matrix—Fredric Brown, master of the short-short sci-fi tale, posited a project to “connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe—ninety-six billion planets—into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.” Spoiler alert: The project ends badly. Or maybe it ends well, depending on your attitude toward machine rule. The technophiliacs who wait in semireligious anticipation for Ray Kurzweil’s singularity—or the iPhone faithful who line up outside Apple stores at the crack of dawn—might not get the joke.
In fact, the healthy trend of skeptical science fiction questioning the creep of technology into all aspects of life seems to have done very little actual good influencing social trends. With the ubiquity of pocket-sized computers masquerading as phones, always networked, always on, ever communicating with one another, carefully kept updated and charged by their ostensible owners, a dispassionate observer might come to the conclusion that it’s actually the phones who run things.
And that when the singularity comes, it comes for them.