Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

The "ick" factor

emmagulley's picture

Towards the end of our last class we watched a TED video in which the speaker suggests that we reevaluate the way we think about technology, computers, and scientific "advancement."  He suggested that, rather than think of technology as something we're losing control over or as something that's growing more powerful than we are, that we consider it as a kind of new partnership.  I found this theory simple--so simple, in fact, that it seems obvious--but also deep and multileveled.  

While Clark makes many intriguing and convincing points in his novel, I think he loses a great deal of readers based on his term "cyborg."  Words themselves carry a great deal of meaning and have strong connotations, and there's something about the word "cyborg" that has an immediate "ick" factor.  Maybe his point is to be provocative, but when I first heard the term "cyborg" I thought of science-fiction and aliens--things that are "futuristic," yes, but also creepy.  While I eventually was on board with Clark's ideas, my immediate reaction was to back up, put my walls up, and try to shed the label of "cyborg" even before I knew what it meant.  The term "cyborg" is offputting because, in a way, it suggests that we are computers, and since so many people think of computers as being hard, cold, mathematic machines, we feel a need to retaliate against the label.  "Of course we're not cyborgs!  We're intelligent philosophers, loving parents, creative artists, etc etc etc."  (Part of Clark's point is that we ought to change our definition of "computer" and "technology," and that we can be both "computers"--indeed, "cyborgs"--and everything else we think we are.)

Thus, part of me thinks the TED speaker approached this idea in a somewhat more open and inviting way.  Part of his point was that computers are not replacing us.  Another point was that humans and computers are not "against" each other, and that, when combined, the two can work together to achieve incredible things.  Things one alone would not be able to complete as successfully.  I think a general fear that many, many members of society have is that computers will surpass us and that we'll be rendered unnecessary, like blobby puddles that are pushed around by machines.  Or that future generations will forget to do things the way we did in the "olden days."  i.e. the thought of a future generation that doesn't know how to do long division is certainly enough to raise some eyebrows.  The TED speaker showed us that this isn't likely to happen.  He showed us that incredible things (i.e. chess games, 9/11 memorials) happen when humans and computers collaborate.  

Before that video I never would have thought of humans and computers as "collaborating" for the sake of a finished product.  I always thought humans--the users--put X into a computer and the computer returned/put out/produced Y.   Or, in my occassionally slightly-paranoid/mostly fearful moments, I thought computers did XYZ for us and we did nothing.  

While I agree that Clark and the TED speaker have differring ideas--Clark would argue, of course, that we ourselves are technological tools, another "kind" of computer, etc--I think that the TED video is an excellent entry point/accessway into Clark's ideas.  His message is less threatening and he takes the "ick factor" out of the  future of technological progress by focusing on the possibilities of what can happen when computers and humans collaborate, rather than trying to change our perceptions of ourselves, writ large, as Clark does.