Control, Command and Concerns

When delving into communication technologies there is almost a whole other realm where the functions and interactions of the technology world take place. Firstly, when we think of the Internet what do we actually know about it?

That it makes it possible for a person in Canada to video-chat with their friends in Australia?

That without it the world would stop spinning?

Well to put it simply, the Internet is an interconnected network of computers which information can be moved around in, and the World Wide Web is just the tool for accessing and navigating this network.

Now what about the ‘world behind the screen’? The place which we so often see in movies portrayed as a tangible and very real land where all this information, data and programming is kept; the idea that a ‘cyberspace’ exists behind every computer, phone and tablet we own.

Often we see cyberspace as dangerous, with teacher’s warning children of the predators that lurk behind our screens and adults being cautious of banking scams and identity theft. In actual fact, there’s been a constant debate on whether technology itself is a danger to humanity. The genre of ‘Cyberpunk’ which rose to cult status in the 80’s has illustrated these fears for decades, drawing on present happenings and showing a dystopian and cynical view on the consequences that these technologies could have. Take Blade Runner (1982) which is an iconic cyberpunk film showing how technology such as human-like robots known as ‘Replicants’ have turned our world into a dark and gloomy place filled with despair, murder and betrayal. The Matrix (1999) depicts the possibility that human-kind will eventually be completely controlled by government with technology that keeps you in stasis and living in a fabricated reality created by those in control. Newer films such as Tron Legacy and Ex Machina follow similar themes, with all of them reflecting our fears in high definition colour.

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Academics have also been analysing technology through cybernetics- the science of communication, command and control in living organisms and machines- with many recognising the “general anxiety in contemporary culture that circulates around the adoption of new technology” (Marshall, 1997). Cultural Media Studies explore how technologies have created an “imaginary of an everyday future disappearing into ‘cyberian apartness’” (Lister, 2009) which rings very true when looking at the progress that technology science is making presently. The current development of self-driving cars for instance is a fine example of control and command between man and machinery. The main cause for concern on this new technology is the removal of the ‘human element’, the creation of a machine that performs the same actions and purpose as the once human driven one, however only on a functional level without any empathy or human decision making.

This is exemplified by ‘the trolley problem’, a moral dilemma situation which a group of psychological researchers conducted study on. In this situation a train is heading down a track into the path of 5 people who will inevitably be hit, but the group posed the question ‘would you change the path of the train to a track that will hit only 1?’ (Henion, 2011). They found that 90.3% of people made the utilitarian choice of sacrificing the one for the lives of 5, which is exactly how the self-driving car would be programmed; to act on behalf of the greater good. However, psychological studies have extended this research by changing the situation to take into account other factors. In one of the adaptations, the person standing on the alternative track to the group of five is either a 5 year-old child or an elderly stranger.  This is where the ‘human element’ comes in;  20.6% of participants accepted killing the elderly person to save 5 lives whilst the acceptance of killing the child to save the 5 people was only 1.6% (Kawai, 2014). This perfectly illustrates how the removal of human interaction in machines like a self-driving is concerning. As the car could not be programmed to make a choice with such complex moral and ethical elements and would hit a child rather than a group of drug dealers, for example.

This leads to even more questions about the implications of a technology driven world; Is there a possibility that cyberpunk is right? Is the increasing dominance of technology only going to result in a dystopian world where money, power and questionable morality reign and the humanity in humans has been wiped out?

Well I guess we will just have to wait and see.

Happy musing,

-Sass

 

References

Henion, A. 2011. Moral Dilemna; Would you kill one person to save five? Available at: http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2011/moral-dilemma-would-you-kill-one-person-to-save-five/ (Accessed: 18 August 2016)

Kawai, N., Kubo, K. & Kubo‐Kawai, N. 2014, ““Granny dumping”: Acceptability of sacrificing the elderly in a simulated moral dilemma”, Japanese Psychological Research, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 254-262.

Lister, Martin et al .2009.  New Media: a critical introduction, London: Routledge, 237-42, 281-3.

Marshall, PDavid. 1997. “Technophobia; Video Games, Computer Hacks and Cybernetics”, Media International Australia, vol. 85.

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