By Daniel Taylor
Technology has enabled modern mankind to enjoy a lifestyle that our ancestors could only dream of. Countless numbers of science fiction writers have warned for decades about the negative side to our advancing technology. Every new technology invented has the capacity to be used for the benefit or destruction of mankind. Even technologies originally intended for good can be misused.
Could many of our society’s ills be connected to our over dependency on technology? Is the answer, as transhumanist leader Ray Kurzweil says, to simply merge with it? If we do, will our humanity still be in-tact?
Let’s take a look at some statistics.
According to a 2010 LA Times report, young people spend on average 53 hours a week watching TV, playing video games, and sitting at the computer.
Facebook users spend about 15 hours a month on the social networking site.
People are walking – and driving – blindly while texting, sometimes walking into fountains and even falling off cliffs.
A literal matrix is being built around us. It hasn’t snatched all of us up yet, but there are warning signs everywhere. The food we eat is increasingly synthetic. Much of the news we watch has been shown to be a total fabrication. The virtual world offers endless hours of entertainment, pressing buttons in our brains to make us come back for more even when we don’t want to. It even offers virtual mates that some men end up finding more pleasurable than their real partners.
We are paying a high price for misusing technology. A recent study from Harvard found that sperm counts in men who watched around 20 hours of TV a week were 44 percent lower than normal.
Other technologies are also impacting our bodies. A UCLA study has shown that the internet is in fact re-wiring our brains. Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center stated that, “A young person’s brain, which is still developing, is particularly sensitive. … It’s also the kind of brain that is most exposed to the new technology.”
The New Atlantis publication has called our technological society an “age of egocasting.” Personalized entertainment, and even personalized search engine results, are enabling us to engineer our information and entertainment environments to our liking. An endless Pandora’s box of entertainment is at our finger tips.
Within the digital world a new gold mine has been discovered by marketing firms and advertisers. Data is the new oil of the 21st century. They rely on internet browsers and cooperating websites to track users activity to create detailed psychological profiles. Google has announced that it will use microphones in personal computers and cell phones to listen for ambient background noise. AI programs will target them with specialized ads based on what it hears.
Futurist Gerd Leonhard spoke to technology and business leaders in Paris last year. He warned them not to “kill the golden goose” that is the general public willingly providing personal data. He warned that they should not make them think that “…they are always watched by us” or they will “kick us out.” The question is, how many people are willing to sacrifice “convenience” for privacy? What will we do when we can “sell” our data in the form of a retinal scan or other biometric information into our TV for free content?
We have a great challenge ahead of us during this era of unprecedented technological advancement. Increasingly, those who “opt out” of this matrix will find it more difficult to function in society. A 2010 report from the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense touched on this subject. Ultimately, as stated in the paper, it may become difficult to “turn the outside world off,” and “…Even amongst those who make an explicit life-style choice to remain detached, choosing to be disconnected may be considered suspicious behaviour.” Already, employers are making it clear that those without Facebook profiles are to be deemed “suspicious.”
By 2040 – and likely before then – many futurists and scientists are projecting that technology will have advanced exponentially, bringing the much anticipated “singularity” closer. The MoD hints at some of these possible developments, including the emergence of an internet of things, radical life extension technology, and surveillance of personnel via mood sensing devices.
Computing will become pervasive everywhere in the environment. According to the report, “The virtual networks will consist of communications servers linking individuals and objects, many of which will be networked through individual Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.”
Will humanity survive?