21st Century Wire
It has many facets and many names. Call it the Matrix, the scientific dictatorship, transhumanism, ‘the singularity’, or the Technocracy.
Whatever the name, one cannot deny how today’s technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid clip – with most of us left on the sidelines in a passive role of consumer or mere spectator. For ethicists and philosophers, however, it’s become a real game of catch-up. So how does one navigate, let alone make sense, this 21st century matrix?
Technology… it is all around us. Some contend that we are literally bathing in it.
Most of us spend our entire waking day inside a WiFi zone. But beyond the iPods, iPads, iPhones and the Bluetooths, further below the surface of this seemingly innocuous chapter in human evolution, there lurks a number of unseen forces and currents of change. One of these is a desire by a newly crowned technological elite or new Technocracy to impose or ‘implement’ (depending on your vantage point) an increasing amount of new and far-reaching technologies on to the population at large. What is the Technocracy? Originally, it was an early 20th century movement which fell out of public favor, but its ideas haven’t died, they’ve merely migrated into other areas of the governing class and society.
The technocrat promises a version of socialism that will deliver the people a sort of high-tech utopia, or “Brave New World“. Far from extinct, those ideas are still hanging around and this new system, or matrix is now coming into view. But this time it’s not technocrats who will be leading the revolution per say… it’s the machines themselves.
Step One: Adoption
We have entered into a new epoch where speed and efficiency and what we expect of our machines increases with every new upgrade. If you are under the age of 30, then you probably will not remember a time when there were absolutely no cell phones, no internet, no virtual social networking and no CCTV cameras. If you are under the age of 20, then you were in effect, born into this early version of the 21st century matrix, or as Morpheus might say, ‘born into bondage’.
If this transformation were truly an organic process, then most critical minds would be able to rationalize the rise of the machines. But the evolution of technology and how we interact with it, is not so easy to keep track of.
It is more attuned to Chaos Theory than it is to Darwinian Theory. The media and its modern marketing arms tell us that it’s progress- their role is defined as the initial express vehicle on which all new ideas and advancements are delivered into the mainstream, and in many cases you could say that the public are preconditioned to accept new technology on arrival. Certainly the media is an awesome technological beast worthy of its own in-depth analysis, but we can leave it aside for now, as it has its own virtual limits and only serves as a platform from which real technological applications are successfully launched on the ground. The key juncture in this equation is when we can touch technology, when it’s adopted in real world interactions, when it becomes our companion or even an extension of our physical self. In the end, much of our day-to-day life depends on technology, so society has had to develop a kind of unwavering faith in ‘it’. Some enthusiasts take things a step further, as if it’s a white buffalo, they hunt their prey, waiting from 3am for the Apple Store to open, and finally fall at the feet of their gadgets, paying homage- in effect, worshiping their machine.
Most people might even admit they talk to their cars and give them affectionate names. It’s quite a relationship we are developing with our machines.
The term “matrix” is one that many have become familiar over the last decade. And there is a good reason for this. The advancement of new technologies is making that allegory into a reality. The allegory of the ‘matrix’ was first introduced into mainstream culture by the Wachowski Brothers film, The Matrix.
The film describes a future in which reality is a computer generated construct perceived by a human population held in captivity and whose harvested bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source to power the machine world. Their reality is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human race. To date, The Matrix series is one of the most powerful and poignant stories which offers an accessible, theoretical and philosophical explanation of what fundamental characteristics a technocracy or scientific dictatorship might actually have. Few will disagree that it’s a valuable metaphor for our times. So how can society begin to navigate through the 21st century matrix if it finds itself entangled in the ever sophisticated web of modern technology?
How can one determine which technology is good for us and which should be discarded?
Can we at least check its growth? First we need to understand where we came from in the hope to better know where we are heading.
The Robot Revolution. Watch:
How did we get this far?
If one is to obtain even a basic grasp of the mercurial juggernaut known as the Technocracy and its impending Scientific Dictatorship, it is crucially important to know how we got to where we are today. Just like the invention of the printing press transformed society and the advent of the automobile transformed communities, the introduction of each new technology brings forward a new set of dilemmas. The introduction of cellular phones has arguably transformed our nature and the way we operate and communicate minute to minute.
GMO’s (Genetically Modified Food and Organisms) were introduced only a few decades ago and have already devastated many of the world’s natural crops and fish stocks. Likewise, Genetic Cloning and Nanotechnology have some frightening applications which would put most imaginative horror-science fiction stories to shame.
Contemporary philosopher, filmmaker, and brilliant modern thinker Godrey Reggio was quoted as saying, “All tools have intrinsic politics and technology is the tool of now.”
Reggio goes on to explain, “I think it’s the tragedy of our time that we’re not aware of the affect of the manner in which we’ve adopted tools. Those tools have become who we are… It’s not that we use technology, we live technology… it (technology) is unknowable”.
In so far as corporations are concerned, economics certainly has played its part in the rise of the machines. In a bid to save money, reduce labor costs and increase efficiency, for the past 200 years corporations have sought to streamline their operations, gaining speed in the late 19th century with industrial revolution practices like the division of labor, separation of parts, as well the incredible growth of both the military and biochemical industrial complex in the early 20th century.
Since the latter half of the 20th century, these same corporations have moved on to robotics, smart tracking and smart advertising in order to secure any possible advantage in an ever-increasing competitive global marketplace. This is for the most part motivated by achieving more competitively priced goods, returning bottom line profits which in turn increase the quarterly value of a corporation’s share prices. It’s business 101- corporations are motivated by money and controlling their markets, so we can easily track the rise of the corporation and also understand their consumer base. Throughout history, when corporations overstep the mark, consumers have boycotted the corporation’s products. That’s your Ace in the pocket. But what happens when the State is involved in the mix?
The State has become one of the biggest consumers of the products that corporations are peddling, and as you will see later, understanding its motivations can be a different matter altogether.
Rise and rise of the State
There is now a new kid on the block. One of the biggest new growth areas for big corporations is providing applications for their biggest bread and butter client- the State. In an era of fiat currencies and government deficits, unlike Joe Public, the State has an almost unlimited cheque book. For the most part, the State maintains a captive audience and has a mandate to take whatever money it needs from that audience, and giving back whatever or what little it sees fit. One of the biggest, and surely the most expensive things the State claims to provide is “security”. And that brings us to the real rub. There is an elegant and disturbingly tango which has taken place between the State’s governing bureaucracy and a Public who has become obsessed with the need to feel hyper-secure. Using fear as an instrument of control, each party feeds off the other, and this dark dance increases in its intensity as each new technological innovation is applied to the science of people management- administered by a governing class that appears to have become high on its elaborate new toy chest.
Most of these toys are tools used for applications in the field of social engineering.
The goals of the State and its social engineers are not so much economic or bottom line driven(as in the case of corporations), they are to do with maintaining power in what has become an almost neofeudal manner. Why else would municipalities in the US and UK spend many billions on CCTV cameras and elaborate computer systems for spying on their own citizens? At such an expense to the public purse, surely there is no real money in that enterprise. So why do it then? We can begin looking for answers to this question by entering the brave new world of Biometric security.
Right down to the local level, both bureaucrats and law enforcement administrators have simply fallen in love with Biometrics, because it sounds great on paper and is a dream for civil servants obsessed with “risk assessment”. And it’s a multi-billion dollar industry in its own right. Once confined to fingerprints, blood stains and photo identification, Biometrics has now expanded to iris scanning software, RFID chips, DNA screening, X-ray body scanning and facial recognition scan software, some of which is readily available to buy online. In a bid to move further towards a cashless society, the biometric thumb scans has even made its way into today’s vending machines (more fun for the kids).
Say Hello To My Little Friend
Meet your new little buddy, the RFID chip. He’s everywhere- in your subway pass, your passport, your luggage, even burried in the neck of your house pet. RFID-ID tracking chips and human implants are no longer theoretical, they are fast becoming commonplace. Driving this whole revolution is, of course, the rise in popularity and universal adoption of the microchip. It’s applications are virtually limitless.
As UK based lecturer and best-selling author David Icke explained recently on tour, “It’s not just about electronic tagging… microchips are ready to be introduced.” Icke added, “The technology is designed to have the emotional, mental and physical level of people manipulated and dictated to from the computer to the chip. They can isolate an individual or they can do it en mass. They (the administrators) can make you docile, aggressive (etc)”.
Philosopher and Filmmaker Godrey Reggio explains the relationship between technology, art and language in today’s modern world.
The role of art in understanding the technocracy
Art can play a significant role in either unmasking a technocracy or conditioning people to passively accept and be literally amazed by it. In the case of the film The Matrix, it has most likely awakened more young minds to the architecture of control-based systems designed by the governing corporate elite.
A look at the popular Terminator film series, particularly its latest episode Terminator Salvation, shows what can happen at the end of our current trajectory of unmanned, computer controlled drone attack aircraft and automated robotic military weaponry. An awakened mind may look at this film and see the perverse nature in these kinds of military applications, while a military bureaucrat or military contractor engineer may see something completely different- a beautiful new world of automated machinery which takes the human element completely out of one side of the equation. You can almost hear them now, “Wow. That would be sooo cool.” Whereas the US military used to mean ‘soldier vs. soldier’, and lately ‘soldier vs. man’, it is increasing becoming a disturbing story of ‘machines vs. man’.
Other important pieces of cinema in recent years include the film, The Minority Report, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, which shows a future law enforcement based on the rather disturbing concept of ‘Precrime’- a trend based on computer generated ‘profiling’ which is already coming into play with law enforcement today, and the twin TV series productions, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, both of which trace the genesis and social adoption of robotics in their off-planet fictional human civilization. Also worth mentioning are the films A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and the 70’s cult classic Zero Population Growth staring Oliver Reed, a distopic tale which chronicles a future where child birth is banned by the State.
The future is already at our doorstep
So many of the scenarios mapped out in popular science fiction are coming to fruition much faster than expected. Scenes that we thought were never going to happen for the next 100 years are appearing in our news every day, just visit WIRED magazine’s website for daily evidence of this.
Scientists, ‘futurist’ pundits, policy makers and the most crucial group in this mix- the public, have probably enjoyed many films and viewed scenes like the Voight-Kampf Test in Blade Runner (a film also based on a Philip K. Dick novel), the invention of CYLONS in Caprica or the smart iris scans in The Minority Report, considering any serious moral or ethical questions to be generations away- not a priority for discussion today, and yet suddenly we have the future right at our doorstep.
A contemporary philosopher might ask: Are the advancements in intelligent computers, virtual realities, robotics and pharmaceutical drugs serving to further detach humanity from its core sense of human experience? What makes a human unique? Is it breeding, or individuality? Is it imagination, or is it the soul? One thing is for sure, in order to address some of these deeper points we will need more philosophers than ever before.
One the stated goals of the Technocracy is to engineer and perfect a mechanized society, where each person is groomed to perform a specific role in the socio-economic scheme of things. Transhumanism, formerly known as the once popular Eugenics Movement, takes this a step further by looking to technology to enhance and augment the current human form. From a technocrat’s perspective, humans themselves are seen as biological androids who can be medicated, trained and steered through the application of pharmaceutical products coupled with psychological conditioning. When introduced into the human body, powerfully genetically engineered pharmaceutical products can yield results similar to that of programming a computer to generate a desired outcome. The Technocrat would consider the recent spike in use of antidepressants and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors like Prozac, Paxil, and ‘mood stabilisers’ like Xanex and Lithium as some kind of positive and necessary trend, while the Transhumanists will offer that this trend has inched humanity into position for what they believe is our destiny in their next phase of evolution- bringing us even closer to our machine companions.
Learning to Love Your Robot
For years, the holy grail of technology has definitely been the robot. Once the stuff of Victorian science fiction, machines made in man’s likeness embody the ultimate in man’s pursuit of technology.
Advances in robotics, particularly work done in countries like Japan, have already eclipsed the fictional horizon and are with us as we speak. We can look to the Far East for more evidence here. The HRP-4C, a walking, talking humanoid fashion model ‘fembot’ developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) made her first official runway debut in a special fashion show in Tokyo last year. Not least of all, the HRP-4C fembot seems to have mastered that all important vacant, expression-less stare we see on most top runway models. She may have a future after all…
Humanoid fashion model ‘fembot’ developed by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Watch:
A scene like that of Kissing robots may be a disturbing and perverse watershed moment for many people, but it constitutes a breakthrough moment for certain technology enthusiasts and science fiction fans (or sci-fi freaks, depending on your particular bent). As odd as it might seem, an idea that was once reserved for MTV and comic books has, at a great expense, now manifested itself in real life (see video below).
Kissing robots developed by the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology. Watch:
The Digital Economy
There are plenty of innovations we can point to that may give an indication as to where technology is going.
So called ‘intelligent’ computers and their many applications have already replaced a significant proportion of the world’s workforce and slowly but surely man is losing his grip on the fundamental idea of “the fruits of one’s labor”. This means that the single biggest growth area for jobs is not for men and women- it’s jobs for computers because they are cheaper, faster and in some cases ‘smarter’ than their human counterparts.
One of the biggest growth areas in terms of human jobs has been in software and digital media, a culture that for the most part was(and still is to some degree) built on dreams of a 20 hour work week and million dollar employee stock options, and it’s an industry where the trusted microchip is now doing all the work. A corporation like Microsoft built its global empire on a product which cost nothing to reproduce, yet is sold for hundreds of dollar per unit. The social ramifications of the digital products these same companies are rolling out are even more compelling- replacing the human experience with a software interface and virtual communities and portals- boasting numbers in the hundreds of millions.
The video gaming and vice industries also comprise a large portion of this digital economy. One of the biggest sectors of the digital world is the infamous global digital sex industry, which now dwarfs its own print and vice predecessors. Again, this reaffirms the move from the human experience to the virtual, or machine generated experience.
Waking up to the matrix
Technology might be the tool of choice for the social engineer and a power obsessed technocratic elite, but it is a long way from being infallible or, in some cases- even practical. Huge amounts of money are wasted by the State annually on technology which has no practical application on the ground. After they have wasted millions on purchasing it, the State will often waste millions more in an attempt to force it down the throat of a generation. This was certainly the case with regards to the now obsolete Anthropogentic, or ‘Man-made’ Global Warming movement. In ten years it grew into one of the world’s most expensive state-sponsored global industries, an industry based entirely on computer modeled projections of what might happen in 50 years time- an example of some people’s unquestioning faith in a piece of computer software (and not the science of real world observation) that purported to predict the future- and thus, the fate of the entire human race.
Understanding the nature of certain technological failures can also help us to better realise that not all seemingly new and exciting innovations are effective in achieving the stated objectives of their designers, and are hardly safe from theft or gross manipulation.
Bottom line: Software is written by humans, so it can be rigged, cracked, and made redundant – and robots can (and will) malfunction or run out of battery power, DNA can be switched, forged or data details attached to it altered, and computers… can certainly be hacked.
RFID chips can also be hacked and disabled using basic, inexpensive electronic equipment. In addition to this, it’s important to point out that legions of ‘white hat’ hackers (many of whom could easily be confused with authentic libertarians) have done incredible work in recent years to expose the futility of State-sponsored big brother technologies, helping in some way to keep the governing and corporate elite in check.
‘Mythbusters’ program was banned from talking about vulnerable RFID chips by both Visa and American Express. Watch:
One of the most powerful demonstrations of a white hat hacker, was a popular 2010 YouTube video which demonstrated how easily RFID-chipped passports and credit cards could be hack using a basic set-up of gear from your local electronics store. The equipment only cost $250 and could be operated with an old cell phone from a moving vehicle – just driving around your local area, and hacking everything within range. That video has since been scrubbed from the internet, but other do pop up regularly before eventually be pulled down.
In a world that some might say constitutes many more consumers than it does deep thinkers, technology is steaming ahead in an unrestrained fashion. If mankind was ever presented with an opportunity to start asking the hard questions and identifying the real dilemmas, it is right here and right now.
To delay any serious discussion about the nature of new technology and its place alongside the human race is to deny any of the inherent responsibilities that we are entrusted with as a race on this planet. There is a very real quickening taking place before our eyes, and there is a risk that certain technological applications could supplant a valuable set of commonly understood, fundamental languages and human values.
We have to ask ourselves which aspects of the real human experience are we willing to sacrifice for a few abstract constructs like ‘convenience’ and ‘security’. Rutger Hauer’s character in the film, Blade Runner, offers a replicant’s perspective on this, one of the great philosophical questions of our time…
Rutger Hauer’s famous passage, “Tears in the Rain”. Watch:
As we witness the rise of a 21st century scientific matrix, we must all ask ourselves that basic question: how far- and to what end should mankind go in order to achieve his life, liberty and happiness?
Here, Godfrey Reggio offers up a fitting conclusion, “Mystery is gone to the certainty of technological principles. So the real terror, the real aggression against life comes in the form of the pursuit of our technological happiness”.
About the author: Patrick Henningsen is a writer, filmmaker, communications consultant and managing editor of 21st Century Wire. Contact: [email protected]
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