Brave New Brave New World.
I recently saw WALL.E and was surprised. Not only does it intelligently re-invent the forgotten art of silent movies but its plot is quite good! It reminded me of my teenage cyber-punk books filled with electronic dictators, bad robots, mad computers and other computer-age dystopias. It is funny to think that none (as far as I know) of the science fiction scenarios of the 80s predicted Google, Facebook or even eBay. Writers kept forecasting intelligent machines -Genies according to William Gibson- discrete entities which behavior is dictated by survival instinct (HAL9000), laws of robotics (Asimov robots) or even emotions (Philip K. Dick's Rachael Rosen and Blade Runner's replicants). However, Artificial Intelligence, more and more efficient and impressive especially thanks to the statistical approach (Google), doesn't seem to go anywhere as far as discrete intelligence is concerned. But the reason why a WALL.E scenario is not impossible at all, is that meanwhile, human being are getting increasingly more stupid. Humanity as a whole is probably way more intelligent than it ever used to, but as a distributed entity, not as a sum of discrete entities. In other word, following the Henry Ford path of increased productivity, we are becoming collectively smarter as we lose more and more of our individual intelligence. Isn't this new wave of humanity precisely the stuff Google is made of? According, again, to William Gibson: "We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products... We are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant...We are part of a post-geographical, post-national superstate... We're citizens, but without right." What we perceive as a technological threat might be something that began way before Google, long before the Net, even before Computers. Maybe the cold-blooded machine, this all-powerful wheel that is leading Humanity to its doom is Humanity itself. There is no Frankenstein's monster, but billions of Victor Frankensteins being slowly disconnected from the real world and inserted in the ever-growing tentacular network of the World Company. Here is the machine that is driving us straight to the dystopia. Who is in charge? No one. No CEO. No board members. No share holders. Not even employees. Only cells connected with some other cells through new membranes. Facebook for the social connections. Linkedin for the professional connections. E-bay for the trade connections. Some cells are bigger: presidents, movie stars, models, scientists, entrepreneurs, clerics or generals. But they are cells like the others. I think the last stand of Humanity 1.0 was WWII. At least this war was fought for an understandable reason. Real heroes led by strong leaders (Churchill, Roosevelt) fought against absolute evil (Hitler), despite the maneuvers of true traitors (Petain, Mussolini) and with the help of a redeemed villain (Stalin). But the war within the war was lost. Hitler was defeated but the real victor was Henry Ford or more precisely the companies that used his mass production technique first to submerge Germany and Japan under a sea of steel and then to use peace as a key to consumerism (by contrast to Ford who planned to use consumerism as a key to peace). The World Company was born. Its fight against Communism was only a momentary lapse of reason. Like a cat chasing its tail. And what Communism became in China indeed proved that it was only a tail, or a shadow, of the World Company. This episode taught the World Company that having an Arch Enemy was a good tool to scare its cells that are trying to regain some independance or to reconnect to the reality. It then became good at finding new ennemies so that there is always at least one to fight against. Now, what is the soul of World Company? What makes it do what it does? Maybe nothing? A black hole in place of the heart? Maybe Laws of Economics functionning like Asimov's Laws of Robotics? Maybe, like in WALL.E, instructions given by leaders during WW2 were never retracted because no subsequent leaders had similar authority. Or maybe because the World Company, like Hal 9000, borrowed from us the instinct that carried Humanity through the millenias: survival. This very same instinct that, if we are able to free the Dave Bowman that is within each of us, will enable us to grab the wheel again, steer away from the dystopias, utopias or any kind of topias and go where we belong and where it is great to live: reality.