current events, technology

The Future is Arriving: Anti-Robot Protests

So, the future is arriving.

There were bona fide anti-robot protests at SXSW.

Somehow, I never imagined I’d see a scene from an Asimov book in my lifetime. “That damned Frankenstein complex”, I can imagine someone saying right now.

I personally hope we can make an AI that will be superior to humans not just in operating capability but in functional compassion, honesty, and love. I think that Asimov’s robots, especially Daneel, provide a plausible template for beings that are both immensely complex and servants of beings that are less complex than they. Just as we have been stewards (in our best moments) of the land and its beasts, so too can our robot friends be our stewards.

But humanity matters. It is true that people can delve into a smartphone. There’s nothing intrinsic to technology that makes it isolating, but in capitalism, there is an interest to see people isolated so they can’t act collectively. Social media’s trends toward isolation I think have to be understood in that context.

More importantly, robotics are not going to be deployed in a context full of idealistic sci-fi nerds. There’s going to be business and government involved. What that means is that, unless we try to insure that the terms of our technology are dictated now, we will see robots used to replace workers (without jobs awaiting those workers), to empower management and to demean labor, and to throw bombs and control our lives.

Studies of the Luddites, the people viewed erroneously as anti-technology advocates, have routinely found that Luddites were always more concerned about technology’s pernicious impact on the rights of artisans and workers. Similarly, monkey wrenchers following in the vein of Edward Abbey weren’t opposed to technology per se but technology that undermined our ecological relations and our human dignity.

We can’t ever let the powerful and the greedy hijack our narrative. We have to be coherent about what we want out of technology and what we don’t.

Because if people don’t take a stand now, we’ll see atom bombs instead of green power.