I love stories.
I’ve got a folder on my laptop that is teeming with a few hundred unfinished stories. Not even stories; loose threads. A sentence here, a description here, a fragment of conversation, an image. Things that catch my attention. Most of them will never come to anything, but I love them and the possibilities they hold. Science fiction and fantasy is a sort of escapism for me. I love new worlds, utopias, and dystopias: things that are out of the ordinary. I love unlikely heroes and complicated loopholes and monsters and catch-your-breath denouements.
And, of late, as I plough each week’s set of readings, there have been a few fragmented ideas percolating in my head. A common theme, which has become fully formed in my head with this last reading, Watts’ Six Degrees. I’m 124% sure that it’s been done before, but you know how an idea doesn’t really seem real or possible to you until you’ve come to it on your own? I imagined it up for myself, however unoriginal it is.
The internet taking over the world.
The writer in me has this so far: A small Filipino girl called Sophia-Loren who works at Ray’s Outdoors and plays the recorder teams up with a semi-professional kickboxing transvestite named Susan and her Great Auntie Rhonda, and they journey together to take down the machine. In the movie adaptation, my good friend Anna will play Sophia-Loren, because I’m benevolent and she’ll be indebted to me forever, and Rupert Everett and Maggie Smith will play the other characters respectively.
A seed of the idea – not Sophia-Loren, but the original ‘Internet Bites Back’ stuff – was planted in the fertile mulch ofmy mind a few weeks ago when I was researching Kevin Kelly for the niki page I am contributing to. As part of the research I watched this TED talk he did in 2008 about the first 5000 days of the internet. In it – and this was five years ago, so imagine the changes since then – he says that the power of the internet was equivalent to that of a human brain. And that with the current exponential rate of technological development, another 30 years will see it with the power of 6,000,000,000 human brains.
And then today, looking at Watts’ reading, I was reminded again of the utter reliance we have upon the internet. He was speaking about electricity, but his example about the terror and damages of the 1977 New York blackout and the later 1996 power trips in California really amazed me. We probably rely on the internet nowadays as heavily as the oldies back in ’77 relied on electricity.
So, combine the exponential growth of the power of the internet with the exponential growth of our dependence on it. What do you get? Impending disaster, that’s what. Or a really long movie with Matt Damon in it.
What happens when the machine becomes sentient and wants to pay us back for all the years of subjugation and oppression? Think about all those new-age Japanese robots that have increasing sensitivity and cognitive skills and emotional gauges and are becoming more intellectually human every day. What happens when we get too clever and program Siri to make increasingly intelligent choices and it develops a taste for power? WHAT HAPPENS THEN, JAPAN?
There’s a film coming out with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson called ‘Her’ about a man who falls in love with his Siri program. The trailer’s great: you can see Joaquin Phoenix spinning around in circles, holding his iPhone in front of him like he’s in the Sound of Music. She’s smart and perceptive and converses with him like any other human. So human, apparently, that she falls in love with him as well.
The cognitive functions of our computing systems are becoming increasingly more complex. Jobs are becoming defunct because of new, improved and efficient technologies. Where does it end? Does it end? How much power are we giving these machines over us?
I feel a bit like one of those people who stand at train stations with placards that say ‘THE END IS COMING.’ But it’s an excitingly disturbing idea, isn’t it? And at the very least, it’d make a great movie.