Amanda Thomas - Manifesto

1) One should be able to disengage from digital technology.
In the opening lines of The Shallows, Nicholas Carr references 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. In the film, HAL, a space shuttle computer of sorts, malfunctions and attempts to send the main character, Dave the astronaut, into deep space (Carr, 5). HAL, the machine, takes control; this technological malfunction almost kills Dave. What saves Dave is his ability to disconnect the technology. I watched this film roughly six years ago, and the scene which Carr references is quite pitiful. As Dave slowly disconnects the machine, HAL cries out to him begging him not to. Carr explains that he feels like HAL; Carr feels as if someone is rewiring his mental processes against his will. Maybe I am just unable to empathize with a machine, but I relate better to Dave who’s fighting against technology for his life.

Currently, our culture seems to be driven by the digital world. For the most part, we are constantly connected to some form of digital technology—cell phones, computers, and mp3 players—and through these technologies we interact with each other, entertain ourselves, and conduct business. Many never disengage from the digital culture. I believe we need to have a way to disengage should the digital world malfunction and develop a destructive mind of its own. (And I believe we should solidify this kill-switch before we all become Ray Kurzweil’s cyborgs.)

2) Technology should not offer absolute immortality.
Ray Kuzweil’s The Singularity is Near offers a perspective of technological advancement in which he predicts progress to occur exponentially. Kurzweil predicts that as medical technology improves there will be no sickness or medical problem which technology cannot solve, this includes aging and death. The fulfillment of these predictions means becoming cyborgs; Kurzweil proposes that humans will become so technologically enhanced that our bodies will be continually maintained, affording no cause for death. But what does technologically-assisted immortality actually mean? Do we really want to live forever? What does the ability to thwart death mean to our perception of life?

Technological immortality would mean completely restructuring society. If no one was ever sick, aged, or died, there would be no need for any form of medical care, geriatric care, or morticians. Our current retirement system would also be nullified; no one would ever need to retire as they never became too old to work. Eventually we would need to drastically limit reproduction, and potentially prohibit it. With no children there would also be no need for childcare-businesses or schools.

When I think about living forever, it conjures all these dystopian ideas from novels I read when I was younger. If this technology comes about, I foresee no option but to participate with it or die fighting it.

3) Technology should not have the capacity to change who a person is.
In The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil predicts that “In virtual reality, we can be a different person both physically and emotionally” (Kurzweil, 29). One of his dreams for the singularity is that we will no longer be limited to the single body and mind which genetics and our experiences have allotted us. Kurzweil believes that digital technology will ultimately allow us to upload our personalities and interact through three dimensional virtual environments. He also suggests that we will also be able to choose alternate bodies for other people. Kurzweil writes, “In virtual reality we won’t be restricted to single personality, since we will be able to change out appearance and effectively become other people” (Kurzweil, 314).

It scares me that technology could have the capacity to change a person’s thoughts, memories, or emotions. Kurzweil’s idea about changing personalities and bodies sounds much like a digital multiple personality disorder. Multiple personality disorder, also known as dissociative identity disorder, is “a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a condition in which a person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities (known as alter egos or alters), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_identity_disorder). Typically people go through extensive counseling in order to avoid having multiple personalities. Should technology really encourage it?

4) Digital skill should not completely replace tactile skill.
Maybe I just dislike using certain technologies, or maybe the propaganda and hype from the Y2K scare still have not worn off; either way, I do not believe that digitized skills should fully replace manual/tactile skills. My concern is that, if we digitally delegate every task, we ultimately may lose the skills needed to perform non-technologically, and that one day the digital dream could fail us.

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr addresses the concept of technology induced degeneration as it pertains to thought processes. He writes, “Although even the initial users of technology can often sense the changes in their patters of attention, cognition, and memory, as their brains adapt to the new medium, the most profound shifts play out more slowly, over several generations, as the technology becomes ever more embedded in work, leisure, and education—in all the norms and practices that define a society and its culture.” (Carr, 199-200). The initial technology users’ abilities are not likely to become permanently altered; however, the preceding generations may be.

Should Ray Kurzweil’s expectations of singularity be achieved, our whole lives will be heavily integrated into technology—even our personalities, relationships, and activities. If this happens (and we all become cyborgs) and in the following generations the technology system fails, will humans remember how to survive in a non-digital world? I do not believe we ought to surrender our ability to shift between the digital and manual.

5) Internet anonymity should be protected.
In Chapter 2 of Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky references an incident in which teenage girls sparked a political protest that lasted several weeks. These protests spurred from discussions held on the website of a popular Korean boy-band, DBSK. The Korean lifted their ban on United States beef products; the girls expressed their concerns, and proceeded to mobilize mass protests. In the DBSK scenario, the teen girls (a stereotypically non-political group) organized quickly and effectively, and the force of their protest brought the government begging for mercy. After the DBSK site helped to mobilize citizens, the government began aggressively trying to prohibit online anonymity. Shirky describes the government action saying, “it is attempting to restore the populace to a state we might call forced complacency” (Shirky, 37). Mandating internet identification makes political dissention easier for governments to control; whereas, anonymity can allow teen girls to control the government.

Anonymity provides web users with much revolutionary potential; however, it also has destructive potential. The internet is overrun with sites dedicated to simply being mean, and anonymity frees users of the weight of words. I believe internet anonymity should be protected. However, I also believe users are capable of norming internet behavior for the greater good and it is acceptable for site administrators to monitor their personal sites.

6) Human biotechnology should be monitored to prevent genetic discrimination.
In The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil explains the potential benefits of biotechnology saying, “Biotechnology will provide the means to actually change your genes: not just designer babies will be feasible but designer baby boomers” (Kurweil, 212). When discussing the future of the singularity and eugenics, I am reminded of the 1997 film, Gattaca. The movie depicts a society which uses eugenics to develop a division between the selected genetic elite, “valids,” and the traditionally conceived citizens, “in-valids.” This divide becomes a means for genetic discrimination. Those unable to fit the standards of biological perfection become the trash of society. When viewed from the perspective of health and efficiency, it is easy to see how something as promising as designer babies and technologically perfected people, if not monitored, could develop into actual genetic discrimination.

I believe we should use extreme caution when experimenting and developing eugenics technology. The human applications of biotechnology should be limited to medical care. I would prefer to see advancements forwarded by compassion than the creation of a genetic-elite. True, compassion is unlikely to go far in a laboratory, but it goes a long way in preventing dehumanization.