Can Technology Consume Us?


In our world today technology is an essential part of everyone’s lives. Cell phones help keep people connected to each other, their work, and even the internet. Cars can parallel park themselves and run on alternative methods of fuel to help the environment. But as we keep making things smarter, we have to ask ourselves how smart is to smart? Sure all these electronics and machines make our lives easier but what happens when they become too smart? What effect will that have on how we communicate, or how we interact? And how will we correct our mistakes if we make them?

Technologies whether it be fire, a hand tool, or the newest cell phone have drastically changed in the last 40 years. Cell phones went from being the size of a brick, down to the size of a credit card. You can’t walk down the street and find someone over the age of 16 who doesn’t have a cell phone anymore. With the invention of the microchip technology has become smaller, more affordable, and a common household occurrence (Technology that changed our lives 2005). Tools, electronics, and even the way we travel have all become affected by the microchip in some way. Simple tools such as an air pressure gauge or a level now have digital counterparts that make the latter obsolete. And what would we do without all this new technology? I think a lot of people would be lost. Everybody today makes use of these items in some way, and if they just one day left I think the world would be dramatically changed.

The microchip was invented in 1959 (Technology that changed our lives 2005) and dramatically changed the technology we have today. The microchip uses a tiny silicon board to connect transistors, resisters and capacitors, all of which were previously separated. With these new chips they could fit more into smaller spaces, making the computer a reachable goal for households.

In 1965 Gordon Moore the chairman emeritus of Intel observed that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit was doubling every 18 months or so (Kurzweil 2005). This trend continues today and is referred to as Moore’s Law. Since the number of transistors doubles, the speed of the computer that uses these circuits would also double. As this trend continues to stay true, the cost of microchips continues to decrease making microchips a more common occurrence on all electronics. If it wasn’t for the invention of the integrated circuit the technology that we have today wouldn’t even exist, the integrated circuit was the leading cause of the technology boom that we have witnessed for the last 40 years.

In the present state of technology you can’t walk into a home or office without seeing a computer. This wasn’t the case 40 years ago though. The first personal computer was invented in 1975 and was named the Altair 8800. The Altair 8800 was based on an Intel 8080 microprocessor with 256 bytes standard RAM and interfaced with the user through switches on the front panel. At first the only way you could get one was to order it through an ad in popular mechanics, but after a while computer dealerships started to open up and they all sold the Altair. The Altair is considered to be one of the biggest advancements in personal computer history, and paved the way for computers into people’s homes.

Some people, Steve Talbott author of Devices of the Soul “battling for our selves in an age of machines” for instance suggest that machines play a role in our lives that we might not see as dangerous. He worries that the allure of technology is blinding us to the future that technology might be bringing with them. The book contains stories about how the word technology came about, stories about Odysseus and the Cyclops and how Odysseus used fire and a spear to take down the Cyclops and escape from his cave. All the stories and essays in this book tend to lean towards technology being a bad thing, something that I disagree with completely. Technology is a great thing and without it we wouldn’t be where we are as humans today.

In the book the singularity is near by Ray Kurzweil he discusses the possibility of technology becoming to smart. He also discusses the possibility of robots being a household appliance. But if something like that were to happen, how would we make sure they are what we want them to be? If you give something a brain that works similar to ours what happens if it makes mistakes like we do? Another thing Kurzweil talks about is reverse engineering the human brain, figuring out all its secrets for the greater good of humanity. If we knew how our body worked to the fullest we could fix things such as disease, and faulty genes. People have a hard time understanding things they cant explain, but if we understood them we would be able to synthesize a artificial counterpart (Kurzweil 2005).

In the past 40 years there has been an explosion of technological advancements all leading to the technology we all use today. Cell phones, calculators, TVs, cars, and just about everything that uses electricity has a microchip in it somewhere. Without all of this technology a lot of people and businesses would be lost, or not as organized as they are. Technology is a great thing, its saves lives and makes lives easier. But what happens when the computers that we made smart become to smart? How can you teach something to learn and tell it not to learn certain things? You can’t. If Moore’s Law continues to hold true, in 2030 you will be able to but a computer that is faster than the human brain, and some say in 2045 computers will have become so smart that they wont need humans anymore.

The term “singularity” refers to the point when computers or artificial intelligences stop behaving in a predictable way (The singularity summit 2007). They start thinking for themselves and acting on their own impulses. Some believe that good things will come from technology reaching this point. For instance when we have advanced this far it could be possible to cure all disease, or even mix biological with non-biological to create humans that never die. Or even replace lost limbs in a day. Nano technology could also become a major part of our future. Imagine having cancer, and taking a pill filled with billions of tiny little robots that are programmed to find it and destroy it. All of this it seems is going to be our future. Some also believe that space travel like you would see in the movies, could also become a possibility. Faster than light space ships and maybe even time travel. Some of the ideas may be a little sci-fi for most to believe but if you have a higher intelligence than humans reached by machines the sky is the limit.

And what if this all does happen? The things that could be achieved by this intelligence could change the earth in a way never before imaginable. People could become immune to disease, and maybe even death. But what if there are negative outcomes. What if when machines become smarter than us they decide that we are not needed? How could we stop such a thing when our whole world revolves around machines? There is no possible way that we could come back from being so advanced, and then having it all taken away if he had to destroy the very things that advanced us in such a way. When complete artificial intelligence is achieved, that intelligence will fix itself, make it better. A lot like a human going to college to make him or her better a smart machine will find a way to make it better.

Some of the stuff that is portrayed in movies is a little far fetched, but some of it could be just a couple of years away. For instance with the growing speed of computers and the advancements in micro technology anything is possible. A computer that fits in your wallet and displayed a holographic screen could be here in the next 5 years. Touch screen technology is found in more and more electronics, and eventually everything could have a touch screen. A CEO could have a conference with a holographic rendering of the president of the company who happens to be in Japan at the time. It all may seem a little sci-fi but it definitely could happen.

The advancement to singularity is something that a lot of people see happening. On the other hand it is something that a lot of people se ass being impossible. The singularity summit which took place in San Francisco in 2007 discussed this topic. They also discussed ways in which we could set up a framework to monitor the creation of friendly AI so certain events could be avoided. One of the main topics of discussion though was how humans would handle such an evolution of intelligence. Could our brains even fathom something of that relevance to our history? I think we could. Most scientists also think we could. As long as we make sure to do it right the creation of artificial intelligence could be the biggest thing to happen to humans since fire. Imagine a machine or program that could look at its own source code and make it better. But that’s were the problems could come from. Something that could fix itself could also look at our world and realize that we are destroying it with pollution. What then? Does the machine decide to fix the pollution or does it fix us?

Technology has evolved us as humans in ways never before thought possible. Fire brought us from eating raw meat and being cold, to having cooked food and warmth. Electricity also brought us from darkness and into an age of limitless possibilities. Without it I don’t think that we would be where we are today. Some people believe technology is a bad thing, but I think different. The singularity that many talk about as the day technology consumes us; I think is the day we evolve into more intelligent beings. Smarter, more earth friendly and more in touch with who we are.

References

Kurzweil, Ray (2005). The Singularity Is Near. New York, New York: the Penguin Group.

Talbott, S (2007). Devices of the Soul. Canada

No Author, (2005, Febuary 13). Technology that changed our lives. from Softpedia.com Web site: http://news.softpedia.com/news/Technology-that-changed-our-lives-172.shtml

No Author, (2007, September 9). The Singularity Summit. AI And The Future of Humanity,

Bauerlein, M (2009, April).Hooked Up or Just Hooked. World Trends,

DeLeo, J (2009, July 21). How Tech Has Changed Our Lives. from PCMAG.com Web site: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2332344,00.asp

Tucker, P. (2009, May). Singularity University Set to Open. Futurist, 43(3), 6-7. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Wagner, C. (2003, May). The Singularity Is Coming. Or Not. Futurist, 37(3), 3. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Matlis, J. (2006, July 24). The Singularity. Computerworld, 40(30), 30-30. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Marx, P. (2008, March 10). TECH STUFF. New Yorker, 84(4), 82-87. Retrieved June 30, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

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