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February 1994

1994-01-01 »

The Joys of Technology

There you are, taking the last few steps of the world's longest marathon. You touch the ribbon - everything seems to be going in slow motion now - just one more step - and then you melt. Bloop. Ooh, how disgruntling. Yes, you guessed it, some guy at the nuclear plant down the street pressed the wrong button again.

As silly as this may sound, something like this could happen; someone could pull "yet another Homer Simpson" by pushing the wrong button on the control panel. There are an incredible number of cruel and totally unfriendly things that our modern technology could do to us, but we're quite happy to continue on living, totally in the dark about our destiny.

What if, one day, your "Grind-It-Good" food processor decided it was hungry? What if those carefully harnessed microwaves decided to jump out of the microwave oven and have some fun? Do you make sure there's someone in screaming distance before you use your toaster? Anything could happen, and it's all because we've tried to harness technology we don't really understand, can't really control, and which has probably been programmed to kill us.

Most of us proceed blindly on with life, fully ignoring the facts staring us in the face. What's really going to happen is complete annihilation of the entire human race. Only a few seem to realize this. These few, these elite, express their views by authoring science fiction movies.

Take, for example, the movie "The Terminator." Now these people had the right idea! One day, the computers took over the world and started blowing everybody up, resulting in pretty much the destruction of Planet Earth, and so on and so forth. The only problem with this movie is that false hope was introduced at the end, when a single robot (like he made any difference at all!) was destroyed. Other aspects of the movie were equally unrealistic, and were surely introduced by people who didn't share the author's realistic view of life. Take, for instance, the fact that there was supposedly an "ongoing war between the humans and the machines." Computers of the type depicted will soon be able to match our every thought process, except dozens of times faster! If anyone believes that humans will survive for half a day given computers like that, well... but we won't have to worry about it anyway, now will we?

People also have the ridiculous notion that technology will improve our standard of living by giving us more free time. The only problem is that everything we can do in our free time will be made completely obsolete by the technology we cherish so much. Take, for example, that wonderful pastime, quilting. While Grandma can produce an excellent-quality quilt after only three months of effort, a single machine can provide every household in Ontario with a dozen identical quilts in the same period of time. And what about that good old art of conversation? Well, perhaps it hasn't occurred to you that every possible thing most people will ever say is probably being said at this very instant. And even today, the vast majority of that conversation is available to us via computer networks like the Internet! Why bother speaking when you can listen to someone else who was going to say the same thing anyway? So much for that.

Of course, humans have always had a "thing" for meaningless destruction. We're awfully good at polluting our air with our factories, killing our trees with our chainsaws, drowning our canaries with our overfilled birdbaths. This, of course, explains why we haven't already taken every example of technology, nuked it into tiny little pieces, and sent it to the moon in order to pollute that too. We like it when we get to lie around and vegetate all afternoon and watch the canaries die, and we would like it more if we could do it all day! "Let the machines outdo Grandma by a factor of 100 million," we think to ourselves. "She probably doesn't care anyway."

Yes, we're evil. Horribly, sickeningly evil, as described above. And what's our eventual goal with technology? Why, to create computers that think just like us, of course! Computers that can take human-style logic and apply it on a larger scale! As an example of what I'm talking about, I have heard via the aforementioned Internet (in a discussion I wasn't taking part in, coincidentally) of a person who has decided that Venus is so similar to Earth that it's a real shame it has such a rotten orbit. In fact, we should really do something to get it in an orbit like ours just in case we totally screw up the Earth. Now, do you suppose anyone back in the 1500's would ever have dreamed of doing such things? Of course not! Only with the assistance of technology can we even imagine rearranging the universe like that to suit our preference.

So, we've established that our food processor might kill us; that even the most pessimistic-about-the-future movies aren't nearly pessimistic enough (although they can be quite entertaining); that technology, while increasing our spare time, just makes our hobbies more boring and redundant; that we like it anyway; and that this will confuse Grandma. Anyone with eyes can see that there's a definite problem here - but our only hope of deliverance will never be fulfilled because we prefer to sleep all day. This is really disappointing, people. I wish good luck to humankind - you'll need it.

I'm CEO at Tailscale, where we make network problems disappear.

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