“Keep Right” -- Making Ourselves Dependent

I am a good Conservative, a lousy Christian, and an avid science fiction fan. My Conservatism is a product of my intellect and convictions. My Christianity results from having found no meaning in existence to be more true than Christian love; it is the language of the soul.

Science fiction, and other forms of creative speculation, sparks my creativity and deepens my understanding of the existent objective world we share. In good science fiction, the fundamental elements that comprise our era’s beliefs, controversies, and instrumentalities can be taken out of their context and examined from differing perspectives.

Just as we can learn things about frogs by dissecting them to explore their inner space, the ideologies and institutions that shape our world can be seen more clearly by reframing them into a fictional setting. What logical implications and spiritual weight can we reveal about the key issues of our time by considering how their analogues would interact with another society different from our own?!

Consider the current rush to computerize every aspect of our lives. Almost no one today can do their jobs without computers, nor purchase groceries, nor operate their vehicle, nor acquire news, nor communicate with friends.

This very column is being typed on a word processing program, and will be sent in for publication electronically. Many people who read the “Kootenai Journal” will never dirty their hands with newsprint, because they will read it online.

Today, our networked computers transcend their old definition as an information superhighway. Increasingly, we are becoming permanently linked into a burgeoning hive mind, a new collective subconscious. Given the profound changes to the human mind once wrought by our mastery of speech, writing, and the printed book, the foundations upon which people learn to think will shift as a result of our accelerating use of networked computers. Our descendants’ very minds may be unrecognizable to us.

If current trends continue, none of us will be able to buy, sell, provide for our loved ones, or meaningfully interact without connecting to cyberspace. Human civilization will change as thoroughgoingly as it did when we developed fire, farming, cities, and industry.

Further, many inventive experimenters are trying to make this new planetary central nervous system become more than the sum of its parts by developing some form of artificial “intelligence”. Such an auto-refining set of programs need not encompass all aspects of the human mind. They simply need to self-organize, determine priorities, anticipate future circumstances, and devise measures to deal with unexpected anomalies; all without human intervention.

Such an “intelligence” would be the first non Homo Sapiens Sapiens mentality we will have encountered in recorded history, possibly since we exterminated Neanderthals (if you believe in that sort of thing). In fact, it will be the first non-mammalian sentience we will ever have encountered.

A crystalline latticework of symbiotic and mutually-acting imperatives would produce a mentality that is in every fashion alien to our human sensibilities. If the virtual world ever wakes itself up, be assured that it will be far more inscrutable than Colossus (The Forbin Project), HAL-9000, the Cylons, SKYNET, the Reapers, or any other fictional computer-mind imagined by science-fiction writers.

Now, consider if this all might sound familiar to you if you are at all familiar with apocalyptic prophecy. To be clear, my own Christian faith (such as it is) is not focused on such prophecy. It is focused more on how we each live from a basis of Christian love than on how God’s plan may be fulfilled at the end of history.

However, a good Christian science fiction story could do a lot worse than suggest a connection between current trends and a mandatory mark, without which people can no longer live their lives. Might such a writer connect cellular phones and 5-G to indelible brands on forehead and hand? Might AI “ghosts-in-the-machine” form an inhumane mentality worthy of being named the opposite of man (a beast)?

Do I believe that today’s networked computers are literally the anti-Christ? No. But, I do think that we each need to think,... really think,... about continuing to place ourselves at the mercy of a complex system of technology that can both break and be controlled by its makers.

Unless we wrestle to self-consciously decide what should, and should absolutely not, be subject to computerization, we may very well be unmade by the very conveniences we have invited into the most intimate recesses of our lives.

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In Maine and then Idaho, Ralph K. Ginorio has taught the history of Western Civilization to High School students for roughly a quarter century. He is an “out-of-the-closet” Conservative educator with experience in Special Education, Public Schools, and Charter Schools, Grades 6-12. He has lived in Coeur d’Alene since 2014. Email: rginorio@cdapress.com