Imagine Tom, your friend from back in school. When you parted with him on the day of graduation with promises of being in touch forever, which, at least then, implied individual initiatives beyond the horizons of convenience, little did you know that you’ll be later pulled back from your own verbal commitments by the very horizons that you planned to escape. The question is what happened?
For about a couple of years post school, you called each other regularly, and each remained updated with the tiniest detail of the other’s life. Things however began to change after that when you realised that your social circles were expanding … only too quickly for you to handle. Finally, the number of calls you made to each other, reduced to the level that only accommodated birthday greetings. What happened next?
You both are now employed and can afford some of the fanciest phones out there … with convenience features of (say) note-keeping and birthday reminders. Tom’s branded phone is so cool that you will now invariably receive a text from him on your birthday … at 8:00AM sharp … and you’ve noticed that it is the exact same message that you had received last year, and the one before. Tom has become this entity that sends you an automated message on your birthday, much like your mobile service provider does in the name of ‘good relations’. You convince yourself that Tom’s message is different from that of the service provider, because you are somehow personally connected to Tom … via online forms of social media. Moreover, now you also have a neat justification for why you’ve yourself been doing the exact same thing (that I’ve described above) all this while – just put a birthday reminder on your phone and let the phone send that automated message every year to that designated number (of Tom). Your own identities have been assumed by your phones (and why not! fancier phones are status symbols after all) and you’ve both become automated text-exchangers for each other.
In this very process of getting represented by machines, we ironically submit ourselves to a subtle acknowledgement that the superiority of a machine is, in some sense, determined by its human-ness. For example, we would want our word-processors to not just automatically correct the spelling errors, but also take care of the formatting (automatic capitalisation etc.) simultaneously when we type fast.
When we use a search engine, we are loaded with options that are intuitive extensions of what we type … and sometimes such relevant extensions are even better than what we initially look for. When you use the word ‘attached’ or ‘attachment’ in an email, and for some reason forget to actually attach what you want to send, you get a notification … like as if somebody is reading your personal stuff. Simply put, we want our machines to be ‘extensions of ourselves’ (this understanding, in fact, was the key to the success of Steve Jobs).
So, to sum up, we want our machines to become more human, because we acknowledge the superiority of humanness … and despite such an acknowledgement we ourselves are becoming less human (with each other).
Clearly, this is a path toward inferiority stemming from the needs that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. We have forgotten that machines don’t compose music. When we don’t understand things, it is most definitely not a ‘bug-problem’ (we’re pretty much self made that way). We humans, therefore, are an interesting lot, precisely for the paradoxes that engulf our senses of reason. The subconscious reality of a great measure is that yesterday Tom stood for friendship, but today he stands for Timing, Organisation and Management.
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