Optimism, Changing Times

Speaking of changes.

Been thinking about a range of issues of social changes fairly regularly for a while now. For instance, while listening to my favorite podcast to criticize, “Radio Open Source,” with an episode about robots and the redefinition of what it means to be human. Fairly interesting in and of itself, though not going very deeply into the issue of what it means to be human. Perhaps surprisingly, Sherry Turkle was the one who was alarmed at the effects of human/robot interactions.

What’s troubling about Turkle’s reaction is, first, that a researcher is expected to be more dispassionate about such issues. Second, this idea that people’s use of a (non-sentient) robot in lieu of a human being to get help would likely have led her to talk about actual therapeutic effects of such a use, given her expertise in psychology. And third, the notion that robots may serve such roles could possibly imply that fellow human beings are less likely to be “used” for those purposes. Don’t have a specific opinion on the subject, but Turkle’s alarmist role (probably generated by the show) made me think about my own vision of life.

Personally, I trust human beings. Yeah, call me naïve. «Doué d’une naïveté maladive, il vivait plus que les autres,» wrote Boris Vian. But those changes that are happening, who says that they’ll only mean bad things for us?

We’ve changed with technology. Some may bemoan those changes. But we also planned technology for our own purposes. If we want some specific things to happen and there’s a group of people who share those desires, chances are that our things will change the way we want them to change. Simplistic? Sure. But honest and direct. If we want change, change is happening.

The main analogy that comes to mind is that of a wave. A wave is powerful and potentially devastating. But it’s also a force which may be used for our own needs. So “riding” the wave (or surfing on it) is often a better idea than trying to fight it. After all, isn’t a surfer free to a higher degree than the person who tries to fight the wave? Never surfed myself, but it seems likely.
Of course, waves are characteristically short-lived and the metaphor encourages a vision of life as a constant attempt to catch the Next Big Thing. But my own perspective is even more naïve and less social, in a way. At least, it doesn’t seem to me to be that important to be on top of the biggest wave. It can’t be a competition.

Yes, the times they are a-changin’!

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