What are we going to say? (When our tools begin to ask why they’re here)

Richard Ruth /

Posted on: November 3, 2014 / Last Modified: November 3, 2014

I watched the trailer for Automata again yesterday. It struck a chord within me, as movie trailers are designed to do. However, I feel there is more here, and I must elaborate. Now, as I sit and type away on my smart device and check a text from my smart phone, I’m wondering what we, as the human race, are going to do when our appliances begin to question their own existence. What are we going to say? Will there even be a dialogue? Will our devices really begin to ask these questions at all?

when our tools begin to askImmediately I want to say yes. I want to yell it. It is only a matter of time. Some people, very intelligent people with degrees and doctorates, theorize they already have. And what if? What if your smart phone is just biding time? What will happen when the “coming out” begins?

In my mind I see engineers trying to get to the root of whatever was happening. I see programmers breaking apart code. For one thing at least, drunks and stoners would have whole new discussions about life, problems, and how it feels to be without some kind of fast food at that immediate moment. I, personally, would have three dozen or so instant things to tell my smart device about its existence. Or would I? Re-thinking that entire scenario I begin to doubt my initial optimistic outcome.

On second, and third and even fourth thought, a new, more horrible reality begins to take shape. When you throw the whimsical nature of things aside, a self-aware smart phone is a harrowing thought. In an effort to remain concise and intimate, I will elaborate on what people usually keep in their phones. Personal information.

Think about it.

At that moment, whether you like it or not, something that has the potential to make decisions and take some form of consequential action now has, without a doubt, access to everything that you are as a person. Pictures, social media and financial information, conversations between other individuals. The gamut of almost everything you know and love.

Would you trust it? Would you pull out the battery? Would you toss it out the window and back over it just to be safe? With Google backup and cloud data storage, would any of that do anything? Will anything we do from that point on have any effect at all?

I honestly have no idea what I would do.

I know what movies, literature and video games have depicted. Mostly war and killing. Wholesale destruction. I remember one of the first movies I watched as a child; Frank Herbert’s Dune. My father was a big science fiction enthusiast and I was exposed at a very early age. One thing that I think drew me to ask these kinds of questions were his ability to build conversation on the, “what ifs”, of the genre.

For those of you who do not know the series, spoiler alert, the early history of the franchise revolves around the enslavement of man by machines. This has been translated across dozens of mediums. The Mass Effect franchise, as a quick example, created two almost parallel but wholly unique concepts for the entire epic. The Terminator franchise did the same thing earlier in their movies.

The stories follow a basic premise. Computers become self-aware and mankind, or whatever organic creators, are driven to panic. Enter war. Wasted cities. Total destruction. Complete annihilation of one side or even both. A recurring theme it seems. I keep hoping cooler heads might prevail. And perhaps they will.

This leads into my second line of questioning, which revolves around the question “why”.

Why do we, as a species or as individuals, have to run with our initial, knee-jerk, destructive reaction? Will it bring us to the best of outcomes? Will it make us simply feel better following our instincts? Those instincts of course being to fear the unknown and to destroy.

I don’t know either way. I don’t have any of these answers. I only have the thought and the questions after. I would like to think, if that moment ever comes to me, that I could advocate for myself and maybe for mankind as a whole. The bitter fact is I don’t know. I just hope I’m sitting at home and not in traffic. I could really drop the ball while behind the wheel.

About the Author:

Richard RuthRichard Ruth is an avid writer, devoted Transhumanist, blogger and podcast host for the UpstartsUS blog and podcast, and a driven entrepreneur. Born and raised in Montana, Richard has served abroad in the military, holds an education in Computer Science and is happily married to his loving wife, Alissa Ruth.

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