10 October, 2002
When we think of technology we normally envision sleek objects of modern sophistication--anything invented in the last 150 years. But we've been using technologies such as writing, drawing, and architecture for tens of thousands of years. These crafts streamlined daily life, and because practical use stimulates creative appropriation, fantasy easily proceeded from these technological innovations. They enabled us to record mythologies, to keep telling ourselves the stories that shape the way we think about the world.
Today's technologies are different. They're growing minds of their own. Suddenly a video game behaves more like a wily opponent than a passive template through which we enact our fantasies of annihilation. Of course, games haven't developed intelligence on their own; programmers still write them, and they do so with our own entertainment in mind, not the machine's.
Recent scientific studies have suggested that computers can be programmed to work like the human mind, that the fluctuations of our thoughts are translatable into strings of ones and zeroes. No wonder mechanical dogs can make some of us cry. What is the difference, really, between a sack of bones and a sack of wires? "Living cells!" you Biology majors shout. Does a cell know it's living? More important, what makes a human being forget that a sack of wires isn't living?
This distinction between living and nonliving intelligence, whether it's productive or not, is one of the stories we've been telling ourselves about our world. Now we're creating technology that complicates these mythologies--or at least distracts us from our questions with its cute little barks.
--l a m a r