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Spielberg
June 19, 2001 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Spielberg bizarrely philosophizes during a press conference about playing god and technology "becoming our masters." I can't imagine 2 issues that couldn't take a bigger backseat to the most pressing concern of how government uses said technology. Steve, the bogeyman isn't The Matrix its Uncle Sam.
posted by skallas (21 comments total)

 
Some of us are comfortable with technology. We understand it. We know how it works; we know what it's being used for; we know what kinds of things are coming.

For us (including most of the people who regularly use MeFi) technology is simply a tool.

For the majority of people out there, technology is magic. Clarke's Law has become reality. For most people, when they flip a light switch, the light goes on but they don't know why, which means that when it doesn't they don't always know why not.

For a substantial number of people, a PC is an inimical box containing a demon. (A slight exaggeration, but the point is that to them it isn't a machine whose behavior is predictable and understandable, it is a real sapience which sometimes isn't friendly.)

I am a design engineer, and sometimes I encounter someone who is so far behind that they don't even know what questions to ask. They want to understand what I do (because what I do changes their lives) but they don't even know what the words I use mean. They're stuck in the caboose of a speeding train and they can't even see the engineer driving it -- and they feel helpless.

Spielberg is talking about something different than you are. You're talking about what concerns someone who is technically sophisticated. Spielberg is talking about the fears of the common man. You aren't common. (Neither am I.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2001


Eh...entertainment people often talk out of their asses for no apparent reason other that someone stuck a microphone there. I never get too riled up about anything actors or musicians or movie directors have to say about the real world.

BTW, it's not a demon in your PC box, it's magic smoke. Sheesh, I thought everybody knew that.
posted by briank at 8:50 AM on June 19, 2001


we should be very careful not to attempt to compete with God all the time,'' Spielberg said.

A couple billion dollars worth of storytelling, and Spielberg thinks he's a diety - no self-esteem problems here! :)

Steve, the bogeyman isn't The Matrix its Uncle Sam.

I dunno, skallas - I've worked with government contractors, and if they are any indication of the relative competence level in our government, Morpheus isn't in too much danger just yet. One of my coworkers refers to government as "the last bastion of the mediocre." Less like bogeymen, more like Elmer Fudd. You do have to be a little more careful around the ones that carry guns, of course, but that's true for any gun-carrying group, it's just basic safety.

I think you might see a tendency toward totalitarianism with the security agencies, but realistically, I think their affect on the regular schmoe is minimal - and, if they get too far out of their box, some demogogue will pull their teeth (see the new IRS for an example).

I figure, unless they've got some saucers they're reverse-engineering out there in the Nevada desert, the private sector will always move faster and be more technically proficient than government. It's roughly analogous to the RIAA-Napster-Copy Protection thing. There will always be someone who will bust their ice.
posted by UncleFes at 8:52 AM on June 19, 2001


UncleFes: I guess that's why the private sector (now an official diety in its own right) came up with the Internet, on which you posted this note, all on its own.
posted by raysmj at 9:04 AM on June 19, 2001


``We have to be very careful what we dream about and what we create because we are so powerful in our creating and we should be very careful not to attempt to compete with God all the time,''

I could say the same thing about filmmaking. Recreating a lifelike story can be considered god-like if we're going to be using the Luddite state of mind Spielburg is currently toting.

Considering the journalist didn't grab more quotes its tough decided exactly what he's talking about and really to whom. I'm assuming its about A.I. after all that's why he's there. Its sounds like he's been reading too much Ray Kurzweil and has attracted the 'machines will wake up and eat us' meme.

Steven, I think the non-technophile has a detached perspective that works like a BS filter. Sure, she may not know how that email crossed 800 miles in 2 seconds but I doubt she keeps a 9mm just in case her Gateway tries to eat her dog.
posted by skallas at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2001


came up with the Internet, on which you posted this note, all on its own.

Sorry, I forgot that it was a young, strapping Al Gore felled the original trees to build the Arpanet :)

OK, government-sponsored scientists did build the first internet (if you want to call it that, it certainly wasn't the thing you see today when you fire up IE); so what? It was a very basic BBS system side-by-side with a hardened voice line, and it stayed that way for a decade. It was the private sector that made the internet what it is today. If it was up to the government, we'd still be pushing bits at 2400 baud and reading them on a greenscreen. I've seen government agencies that still do that today.

I think we're differing on the pure research v applied science angle. The government certainly pours a great deal of funds into pure research, and we're better for it. But when it comes to applying that research in ways that are useful (and yes, profitable), the private sector drives.

Anyway, in re Skallas' fear of government technology, my contention is that the governed have the resources and desire to beat any totalitarian system the government could come up with (US only, we're talking here). The government doesn't beat people up with technology, it beats people up with bureaucracy; it's not for nothing that the scariest people in Washington are accountants and lawyers.
posted by UncleFes at 9:28 AM on June 19, 2001


I think it is the creator of "vi" not "ai" that said it better...
posted by machaus at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2001


UncleFes: I guess that's why the private sector (now an official diety in its own right) came up with the Internet, on which you posted this note, all on its own.

My dear friend Ray, you really don't want to start this argument again, do you?
posted by ljromanoff at 9:49 AM on June 19, 2001


UncleFes: You still wouldn't have an Internet. My only point was, the two help drive each other in more ways than you let on. And your post was way to cynical. Does anyone argue that the private sector is essential to what the U.S. has become? No. But I've known idiots in the private sector and government. (I lived near a huge federal agricultural experiment station. "Mediocre" is not a term I'd use to describe most of the people I came across there.) Bureaucracy is also bureaucracy. The phone company and credit card companies can beat you up with bureaucracy too. And bureaucracies of all types can be irrational. Amex harassed me over a $5 min. payment due about two months ago, and then two days ago practically put me on a guilt trip for not wanting their platinum card. This whole private v. public thing can quickly become too black and white, too good v. evil.
posted by raysmj at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2001


Anyway, in re Skallas' fear of government technology, my contention is that the governed have the resources and desire to beat any totalitarian system the government could come up with (US only, we're talking here).

I was aiming more towards the creation and control of technologies of warfare, their price, potential use, etc. If I have to admit fear to anything its biological weapons which makes everything else, even an android takeover, seem pretty harmless.

I also don't even see the need for a totalitarian system, when secrecy and intimidation work so much better as we pretend that our intelligence organizations don't behave like those foriegn (read: evil) governments.
posted by skallas at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2001


I can't imagine 2 issues that couldn't take a bigger backseat to the most pressing concern of how government uses said technology. Steve, the bogeyman isn't The Matrix its Uncle Sam.

For those of you interested in the interaction of government power and technology, I recommend Orwell's Revenge by Peter Huber. It is a sequel to Orwell's 1984 of sorts, mixed with a lengthy essay about technology and power. Huber, in the fiction portion, follows the events of 1984 with the emergence of anti-Big Brother underground, that uses the technology that exists to monitor the citizenry against Big Brother itself.
posted by ljromanoff at 10:14 AM on June 19, 2001


Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto! I for one never pass up a chance to shake my head in bemused exasperation at the Great Unwashed and their fear of technological "magic." As a technophile, I feel that the fact that my life revolves around a narrow band of activity that constitutes about 5% of the total human experience actually gives me more perspective than the "average Joe." Why? Because I make more money and therefore have more leisure time to dwell on such matters. And look no further than the Manhattan Project to demonstrate why we have little to fear from government-sponsored technology. All that work and money, and all they've managed to do in 55 years is take out a measly two podunk towns. Imagine how much more efficiently a commercial enterprise -- you know, one that would profit from warfare, unlike our current system -- would have used this technology. I wish elitists like Spielberg would stop kvetching about the dangerous implications of technological development. In an age that promises such wonders as growing custom-engineered human fetuses as organ farms and crossing humans with pigs it's a little shortsighted to start whining about "moral consequences." Whatever. Anyway, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within opening July 11th only in theaters!
posted by byun at 10:23 AM on June 19, 2001


For a substantial number of people, a PC is an inimical box containing a demon.
posted by jpoulos at 10:55 AM on June 19, 2001


we should be very careful not to attempt to compete with God all the time,'' Spielberg said.

Well, despite all this gov-tech hoohaa, I think that the "competeing with god" stuff that speilberg is talking about is much less about his filmaking abilities and more about the concept of AI and the possibilities of creating intelligence. If an entity (meat or electronic) becomes self aware, then how far off from being true life is it? Can technology ever reach evolution seperate from human involvement? Fourth Discontinuity, anyone?
posted by Hackworth at 11:37 AM on June 19, 2001


Well, if that's the case, I'd better go join the Church of Wintermute.

Why do people say stuff like "we shouldn't play god"? As if genetic research and AI or nuclear physics are the sacred, off-limits sciences. Gawd.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2001


Here are a few tidbits I've culled from previous threads covering this subject:

Kurzweil's new book, The Singularity is Near

Vernor Vinge's essay, which started the "Singularity" discussion

Exhaustive discussion of Vinge's Singularity

Jaron Lanier's One Half of a Manifesto

The Bill Joy essay from Wired, linked above, is great. Whether you agree with him or not, he does a hell of a job of framing the the debate about emerging technologies. Recent thread on the Joy piece, which I was miffed about missing out on.
posted by gimli at 1:36 PM on June 19, 2001


{sarcasm}
Great. You get Oscar kid Haley Joel, you get story from Brian Aldiss, you get creative direction from Stanley freakin' Kubrick ... and you make Jurassic Park IV. Thanks, Steven.
{/sarcasm}

I should note here that my criticism of Spielberg is based mainly on the triteness of the idea. I hope it's manifested in the story more concretely and with some level of intelligent dialog towards contemporary relevance.

I would say that I do have Den Beste's perspective: technology is, ultimately, merely a tool. I submit, however, that the law of unintended consequences has not been repealed. The industrial revolution brought many advances, but it also brought pollution, drudgery, and economic stratification. Today the economy built by that revolution is considered an end in itself by many people, and standing up to it gets your head cut off. That should disturb anyone, even though we ostensibly have many, many choices about our interaction with that beast. I'm not worried about my Gateway eating my dog (great image there!) but how, for example, the migration of corporate workers to information technology turns many of them into piece workers compensated by keypress count. Wireless communications technology may save lives, but it turns many more of us into tethered 24-hour high-tech wetnurses. These are the "empowered" workers of the modern age! I suspect that the benefits of technology introduced in this century will prove as elusive and chimerical as those from the last.
posted by dhartung at 2:22 PM on June 19, 2001


Wow, this might be the most pandering, condescending thread I've seen here, and that's saying a lot.

You're right: you can operate a PC. You're a fucking sorcerer. Do me a favor: prevent a hurricane. Once you accomplish this task with your Linux box, then you can talk about the common ruck and run. Until then, shut the hell up, because you just sound dumb.

Why is it that any concern about the use of technology is immediately branded "Luddite thinking"? I've never understood how ostensibly logical, sensible people can turn into name-calling bullies when it's their particular thing that's threatened. You're right: we should kneel at the altar of Ayn Rand and allow our Benevolent Government/Corporate Masters to boldly take us into this new technological future! Get with the program, you stick-rubbing primitives!

I'd rant more, but Byun said it better than I could.
posted by solistrato at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2001


I can't imagine 2 issues that couldn't take a bigger backseat

Personally, I'm still trying to bushwhack my way through the thicket of negatives in this sentence. How in the world did the rest of you get past that to actually discuss whatever it is that's being discussed?

Why is it that any concern about the use of technology is immediately branded "Luddite thinking"?

That seems to me to be a little like asking, "Why is any sentence that asks something immediately branded a 'question'?" Because that's the definition of the term!
posted by kindall at 3:40 PM on June 19, 2001


Why is it that any concern about the use of technology is immediately branded "Luddite thinking"?
***
That seems to me to be a little like asking, "Why is any sentence that asks something immediately branded a 'question'?" Because that's the definition of the term!

Not really. Merely being "concerned" doesn't amount to being a "Luddite"; you have to be actively opposed to technological advance in order to qualify for membership here. Suggesting that we ought to think about what we're doing with these technologies before we implement them is common sense. Suggesting that we go out and, say, smash up laboratories involved in genetic research would make you a real follower of Ned Ludd. I suppose Congressmen who want to ban cloning, stem-cell research, and the like might qualify as legislative Luddites, though.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:04 PM on June 19, 2001


9 out of 10 luddites prefer Swinn.
posted by clavdivs at 9:34 PM on June 19, 2001


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