What Computers Mean to People
No one has given much thought to this question – because no one thought to ask the question. But reading Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together has made me think about it.
Originally, computers were just fancy calculators that cranked out numbers and not much else.
But people wanted more – they wanted animated scenes that responded to their actions (with a mouse, for example). The Graphical User Interface (GUI) became standard. This was much more satisfying – and started an important trend: satisfying the user. The user was now made to feel he (or her) was the king or queen of all they beheld. Very satisfying.
Fast forward to the present, where wireless, hand-held, touch-sensitive devices have captured everyone’s attention. The reward for this is beyond gratifying – we now have become new beings with magical powers – like gods. But at the same time, as persons (without our magical devices) we have become nothing.
Turkle wants to take this further, and talk about robots that seem to provide love – a new Japanese growth industry.
For me this is ironic, because I had worked for the last American robotics company, located in Silicon Valley. The Japanese had taken over the robotics world with their superior technology. Americans could have used this technology too, there was nothing stopping them, but they stuck with their obsolete technology and got run over. This company also had a software division – but I could see at a glance that it was doomed – as indeed it was.
One of their engineers and I developed this really neat application that should have gone places, if there was any justice in the world – but it too has gone to never-never land.
This happened so frequently I began to wonder if a black cloud was following me around. Engineers, who you would expect to be rational, logical beings, were sometimes a stupid as mud. And we won’t even talk about upper management, the hogs who get paid everything – but usually make all the wrong decisions.
What do computers mean to people? They mean nearly everything – whatever people want them to be. They can gratify any fantasy.
Life-size sex dolls exist, and they are being improved on all the time. I do not doubt that sex with one of these improved models would be better than some of the sex experiences I (and many other men) have had with old-fashioned women.
Perhaps The Singularity has arrived after all.