In a society where technological progress will only come faster and faster, it is a fair question to ask: ‘When will technology come to control us? Or has it already happened?’. Now when I say: will technology control us, I do not mean control us in the way we see in many science fiction movies like I, Robot, where a superintelligence becomes aware and gain consciousness and concludes that it should dominate over people. This is a view that is created by taking intelligence and consciousness as the same thing. They are not, because that would mean that people with higher intelligence would be more conscious than those with lower intelligence. You could say that someone with higher intelligence is more aware of more difficult problems but that doesn’t mean it has more consciousness.
What I mean by controlling us is that it will take over our lives in the sense that we will rely on it heavily and won’t be able to cope without it. In a sense this is already the case; think about living without any electricity. You could no longer watch your Netflix show, you couldn’t call your mother anymore and your car wouldn’t start. But what if algorithms and programs achieve the same status?
There are programs for everything nowadays. There is the algorithm in YouTube that makes sure you always get something in your videofeed that you’ll like. Advertising companies use algorithms to give you deals to things you might enjoy. You just looked at some shoes which you viewed for 2 seconds longer than other shoes? Well, here is a 10% discount on those shoes.
But also, with the rise of Alexa and Siri we will become more dependent on technology to manage things in the house. With a command we can ask Alexa to turn on the lights. In the future there might be a time where we don’t even use buttons for those things anymore. We could just ask Alexa or Siri to turn the oven to 180°.
This means we will become more and more dependent on technology. It will make our lives so much easier. But is also comes with a dark side. Jobs will be lost to this technological rise. We’ll have less job security because the exponential growth of computer capacity could make it so that you super relevant job in 2050 could become completely irrelevant in 2060. But this might be food for thought for another time.
So, what happens when we become so dependent on technology? We might be at risk of authoritarian algorithms who feed you the information that you want to hear. Don’t want to hear about the war in a certain place on the world? Sure, you’ll see nothing of it. Want to see many cat videos? Here you go, have as many as you want. It will be far harder to get a certain all-round view of the world. People will get more and more individual information and will be placed in groups according to their world view. Before we know we might not control our knowledge and our thinking, but the algorithm will. That’s the whole problem with fake news. Lie enough and it will become a truth. It’s one of the things totalitarian leaders like Hitler and Stalin have used to control their people.
Therefore, we need to make sure that we get a view from all sides of the world. This is a hard task because people tend to have a confirmation bias, meaning they will believe things more if they reinforce their already existing belief system. Why do Republicans not believe in climate change? Because it doesn’t fit in their existing belief system. Why do socialists think liberalism makes the world a worse place? Because it doesn’t fit in their existing belief system.
Obviously, I am generalizing here. But it will only be more and more the case that this will happen because of the technology that will show us our own little truths. That’s how technology could at one day control us. Don’t go outside because here is something better, the phone might say. The world is complex but here we have some simple things to take your mind of it, says the computer. We won’t have to face the world anymore. We’ll be able to live in our own matrix. Now if you’re happy with this, then there is nothing to worry about. You’ll have a great life. But if you don’t want to be controlled by unknown forces and algorithms, you might want to think twice about accepting cookies on a website. It will only come faster and faster. When you see a couple going out for dinner but not talking to one another and sitting on their phones or when you see everyone on the street with their heads down looking at a screen, one might wonder if that time isn’t already here.