Monday, 21 November 2011


This was a 16 year old to his mother after being persecuted repeatedly by friends on his i-Phone when he didn’t instantly reply to his voice mail and texts. It’s worth considering in this techno-age.  Bryan Appleyard author of “The brain is wider than the sky” did just that at the RSA this week. Bryan writes for the Sunday Times. There were many questions - has technology made our lives better? Are “they” out to control our minds? Is the progress to thinking machines inevitable?

He was uneasy. In his research he spent time in Silicon Valley where employees at Microsoft confessed “we are not whole people here” and everyone described what they did as “transforming” and “life changing”.
Technology is responsible for one of the things people hate most – call trees on phones where a computerised voice tells you to “press 1 or 2 or whatever” ( advises you how to beat this system, by the way.)

Check out Facebook updates to discover what “seeing inside our minds” is coming to. Bryan reckons if they have your date of birth and postcode you are nailed. So, if they don’t control our minds yet but that’s where it’s leading.

The Turing Test comprises putting a computer and human answering service to see if you can tell the difference. My advice is to tell the computer a joke.

Science has moved from human experiments to human observation to computer modelling to neuro-experiments. Put “neuro” in front of anything and it certainly sound uber-cool. (“I’m on the new neuro-diet. We do laboratory neuro-research instead of focus groups now.”)  Science and its bastard offspring “singularity” and “scientism”  are worrying signs of making information neutral and fact defined…a world of “if you can’t count it,  it isn’t there.”

Then Rod Liddle Spectator and Sunday Times who looks like an out-of-condition bouncer who’s very clever laid in to Bryan calling him a “bourgeois escapist Leavisite” – in other words anti-science and reactionary.  “Can robots think?” “Yes” asserted Liddle. “Celebrities today are our most successful robots.”  Well done Rod. “I’m a robot get me out of here”.

The rush of technology as with all trends is excitingly undiscriminating. Lives are generally improved but the bearers of tech banners (to get back to my comment on jokes) have this in common. No irony. No sense of humour. Utterly self-obsessed.  Consider the late Steve Jobs. Genius is not always a good companion or right. Except when he’s called Einstein and says “not everything that that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

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