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Behold! The reign of the machines is upon us (or is it?)

I’m of the age that cannot really believe the gadgets and gizmos that we have to play with these days from the computer I am writing this to, to my smart phone, to the computer that runs my car.
I’m running a role playing game periodically for some friends that is set in the mid 1990s and in doing the research for it – well, a same not taken seriously is not a game worth playing no matter how silly it maybe – I was amazed at how technology had changed in just that period of time and made to think about what things might look like in only 10 years time from now.
It is not just the technology itself but our reactions too it. It is especially noticeable in children. A friend of mine has a little daughter who must be around three or four now. His flat screen TV is covered with her fingerprints as she doesn’t really understand it is not a touch screen like his tablet. To her generation touch screens will be the normality and keyboards get the same looks of puzzlement as the typewriter does in the display at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire (where I sometimes volunteer) from the teenagers.
Is it all a good thing? Like anything else there are good and bad aspects. Technological progress should never be feared, is necessary for the human race to constantly better manage itself and continue to grow and evolve, but it does need to be managed. The overall impact has to be objectively, and ideally sometimes speculatively (the old “what if?” question can be appropriate, if you can keep away from scaremongering) assessed so that we don’t regret it later. I think that in two areas particularly we need to take care:

1. Forgetting who we are, and letting technology rule. Technology is just a thing, people are what matters. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be led by the machines. I’m not sure if the killer robots will ever try and wipe us out, but why bother, when we can easily become of our own free will slaves to them.
In trying to leave Cambridge a few weekend’s ago we received some useful help from satellite navigation to get out of the winding network of streets. But then we had a problem in choosing lanes when we found ourselves waiting for instructions instead of using our eyes and making a sensible prediction that if the sign said M11 to the right, maybe we should turn right before being told to by the polite lady in the dashboard?
2. Power. I think this is the one, as a lover of speculative fiction that worries me the most. Most of our technology needs power, and a lot of what we get our power from is a finite resource. Unless we can get the (ha ha) technology for energy generation to work many times more efficiently or develop new sources of energy at some point we will not enough to manage the worlds energy needs. Then bad things will happen. Asking people to cut back on energy usage will help if enough people do it but it is not going to be the solution. That’s just playing for time in the face of the inevitable.

I personally think that these issues will be solved eventually because I believe that we are an extremely ingenious species. But in the meantime I will be trying to think of ways – turning appliances off, spending just that little less time in the shower – to do my little bit to give us the time for the science to come to the rescue.

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