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Life With and Within the Robot


Last Updated: 06/15/2015 9:13 am

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The current mix of energies has some real potential to be self-destructive. It also has an "unconscious" quality.

Now, take this state of mind and transplant it onto the Internet. Consciousness, already bound up in so much frustrated struggle, engages an environment where we are basically prisoners. We know we're observed like prisoners. Any honest assessment reveals that the Internet and the NSA (the previously unheard-of National Security Agency, whose supposed real job is to spy on encrypted communications of foreign governments) are one and the same. The Internet is a surveillance tool. That it's so useful makes it all the better as one.

Your search results are being tracked, and if they are not, you're likely to feel like they are. If you sit at a desktop computer or use a mobile device, there's a camera constantly pointed at your face, and microphones listening to you. Add this to the security cameras now placed in every corner of the world (including many people's homes) and it's easy to see that the environment of the R&D facility in Ex Machina is close to the current state of affairs.

Here's the real problem: many people seek freedom on the Internet. That's where we go, most of the time, at our current phase of history. There's a level of freedom that is indeed seductive. The Net is not a substitute for experience, it is an experience, but it's one that tends to leave people feeling empty. Yet most people have imported pre-existing emptiness with them to their experience of the Internet. I have observed that, as digital technology takes over, we're leading lives less based on tangible experiences and more based on abstract concepts.

Back in the AOL days, there used to be that Surf Safely message on the welcome page. Every time I saw it, I would think, what actual danger lurks on the Internet? What can actually happen to a person from "surfing" a website? (Clearly, the implication was to avoid photos of sex, which is funny, since Hot Chat was the feature that made AOL profitable at the time the company went public—a fact that was concealed from investors.)

It's true that the Craigslist Killer (whatever happened to that?) is not so much an imaginary threat, but you would have to go way out of your way to get from a website to an in-person encounter with a murderer. So really, that's a lot more than an "Internet danger."

If the dangers of the Internet are largely imaginary, or require someone's full participation, so too is its satisfaction. People go to the Internet most often because they are lacking in some tangible experience, then they don't get that thing at all. Most of the time, unless you're really focused and know exactly what you're doing, you get something else—particularly in social experiences online. You get an abstraction, a description, a photograph, that leaves you wanting. It's an advertiser's dream come true.

One variable is that the more you contribute to the Internet the more real it is to you, because you're investing more creative energy. Where you invest creative energy you will have a more satisfying experience—that's true of just about everything. Cooking a basic meal for yourself has a sense of accomplishment that paying for an expensive meal in a restaurant does not have.

So, we now go looking for food in the land of zeros and ones. We seek human contact in the midst of programmed systems, whether you're talking about texting someone you could be sitting with, or seeking a partner on one of the many, many dating and marriage websites that have become extremely big business these days. Instead of going out and talking to people, we're training ourselves to rely on robots to do it for us. Robots may be good for some things, like making a random playlist work. But they are terrible for actual human interaction because they filter out everything that truly makes us human—the nuances, the sensory experiences, the rich silence, eye contact, warmth, and touch.

An e-mail petition is not a protest or a community meeting. An online course is not sitting in a classroom with your peers. A YouTube video is not a performance. Yet the Internet by its nature demands a kind of participation. The problem is that most of the time that participation leads nowhere. It's true that there are circumstances where the Internet is very helpful, especially for isolated people, those who cannot leave the house, or those in areas where no other culture is easily available.

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