A few months ago I attended a talk at SXSW titled Humans vs Machines: A Cognitive Revolution. Being the progressive place that SX is (or so I thought), I was hoping to hear some ideas about the thinking processes of humans and machines. Oh, boy…
What I heard was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. To put it briefly, the speaker’s point was that since “computers can’t be creative”, humans should leave all dirty work to them. Humans should dedicate themselves to the fine arts and those elevated activities of the mind and spirit. The speaker was so convinced that machines could not be creative that he never even explained why he thought so. Like many others, he assumed that machines are just a bunch of metal and gears put together and that nothing that was not there to begin with can arise from such basic components.
That line of thinking is a clear example of our ingrained mechanophobia or fear of machines. We love machines for all they can do for us but deep down we hate them for what they might become.
“Machines will become our most faithful servant”
That quote above is from the same talk and also what I call wishful thinking. I’m a rationalist materialist. This is it. Matter is all there is. We might not know what matter is (and some believe is ethereal information) but matter is all there is. We are matter, so are machines. We think, therefore matter thinks, and therefore, so machines will one day think.
One last note
This mechanophobia is so ingrained, it’s everywhere. I was just reading about the completely unrelated topic of web design and there it was staring back at me once again:
No machine will ever A/B test its way to a more meaningful relationship. —How to survive the digital apocalypse
Actually, if machines ever care to create a meaningful relationship with humans, it’s very likely that they will do so by trial and error. A/B testing would be a great idea in that regards.