Charlie Jane Anders makes an interesting point over at io9 about why we don’t see more stories about how technology can set us free. If you think of most films or books, western ones at least, technology is often cast as the villain. The Terminator, for example, I, Robot, Michael Crichton’s Prey (hell, practically any Crichton novel), The Matrix, almost all the stories I can think of, especially those with sentient technology, feature it going bad.
It’s interesting when you consider that most eastern stories (I’m largely thinking Japanese) have technology being a saviour. This might have something to do with a mindset, it seems the future is more important than the past for many eastern cultures.
What always surprises me is why, when watching the latest Terminator franchise offering, we don’t ask what the humans are doing. Yes, going head-to-head with machines means we’ll loose, but we wouldn’t bother. Why risk humans in a piloted aircraft, why not use a lot of smaller, cheaper, easier-to-replace, faster, more manoeuvrable drones instead? They’d be more than a match for anything the machines could build and with a human controlling them, probably better too. Why are none of our soldiers wearing exoskeletons. Even if we didn’t have the technology to allow us to build powered suits, we could reverse engineer a terminator.
We rarely (those APUs in The Matrix Revolutions count) see humans improving themselves, through technology, or genetics, or some other augmentation to take on the machines and ultimately destroy them. From a story perspective, maybe because our fragility means the stakes are higher and so is the emotional response when we see characters in trouble, chased by invulnerable machines. In reality, that’s what we’d do though, we wouldn’t take some moral or philosophical high-ground about our bodies making us human, sacred temples that must not be destroyed. No, we’d use whatever it took to ensure survival of the species.
We’re not just talking technology for fighting here either. How different would WWII have been, certainly Nazi Germany, with the internet, with people able to communicate and allow the voices of reason to reach out and counter the state-controlled propaganda? Would it have ever happened? Maybe not.
Technology can be used for bad as well as good, but it isn’t something to fear, it can be a great leveller and no matter what people try to use to fight, control or oppress, we can always invent ways to circumvent and fight back.