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The Sorceror’s Apprentice 2020 December 30, 2019

Posted by voolavex in Social Issues.
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When I was a girl – about twelve, I discovered science-fiction.  Always a skeptic as far as presumed wisdom and dogma was concerned – even at a younger age, the  sci-fi authors I loved were Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.  Alas I did not find Arthur C, Clarke until later ; when I did read and re-read 2001, 2010 and 2030 several times.  My mindset was simply if they could think it up and write it- it could come to pass or already be so.  I still feel this way.

Which brings me to the brink of 2020. The very number hints at perfect vision, but I see it as anything but. Technology seemed to be a blessing for humankind and I would reckon most of us cautiously embraced it as we sent our first email and shouted “Eureka”.  “Everybody, dance now”.  It was the “FAX” only much, much better.

Instant messenger, love songs, angry responses, data, mega data, dumbest – data. Push a button and with far less effort than a phone call, it was there.   I loved it. And as a former constant dialer, I traded my dialing for a keypad and emailed.

Then I encountered Instant Messages.   Not mine, but those from friends who KNEW I was online.  Rude if you don’t say hi, yet annoying because you really have to say hi.  You can ignore a phone call easily. IM – not so much.  But since all this was happening at binary speed, before an etiquette had been established, it was difficult to know how to reply.

Then eBay arrived. I loved (do still) eBay in it’s early days.  Buying and selling anything; EVERYTHING!!! We even took personal checks and I frankly did quite well.  So did many others and the search to “find stuff for eBay” was a daily challenge.  Watching your auctions was like checking your lobster pots (I am from New England) and it could be thrilling with a buzz that lasted for weeks.  And the checks came in and it promised a fun and challenging way  to scavenge and coin some money.  It also offered an entire  new world of shopping.  So I did that too.  I dare not show you what that became.  Suffice it to say you could you could replace lost childhood, recreate memories and fill up a room really, really fast.

And then came Amazon.  Resistance to betraying the bricks and mortar book stores lasted about as long as it took to find some obscure title you just remembered you had wanted at the local bookstore but didn’t have the money.

And then Dot.Coms.  Domains you needed just because it was cyber real-estate and cheap and the ones you created were better than any of the others.  They weren’t actually,  but your chuckle-bait portfolio let you sleep with a smile on your face.  Some re-sold for lots of money.  The others float around, cluttering up cyber-space.  With mine.

Wikipedia was faster than the Funk & Wagnall’s and the info was free and cited well.  Hard to argue with that – and I don’t.  As a kid who read the F&W from A to Z – I appreciated Wiki for its convenience and it did not take up shelf space.

So where I am heading?  I bet you can guess.

First let me ask if you saw Walt Disney’s  Fantasia?   I cried when the dinosaurs died.  But the part that stays with me and endures was “The Sorceror’s Apprentice”.  A cautionary tale set to music and fully illustrating what happens when what seemed to be a boost in productivity went terribly wrong.

When Mark  Z. and his chums were trying to find a way to keep up to date at Harvard for the purpose of socializing and rating women, here was Mickey all dressed in his sorcerer’s outfit.  I like to imagine he had no idea what he was about to unleash on the planet (and I often wonder what the Winkelvoss twins might have done differently).  But unleash it he did into the lives of a species known for murder and mayhem, sectarian wars and bigotry and everything recorded history has shown us.  Clearly a species that has veered into a nether world of non-evolution to something better and brighter on a small spinning rock – presumed to be the only one of its kind.    And beside the obscene amount of money he made from this loosing of the beast the things he has taken –  perhaps without intent – are so hideous and vile that we cannot unlearn them because the hits just keep on coming.  The need to know it all. ufettered, unconfined, uncensored.  Ungraded for good or bad. You decide.

Curiosity; prurient interest. The supposed wisdom and stupidity of the world is as close as your electronic device.  WOW.  Privacy?  You are being watched, listened to and tracked all the time.  Siri and Alexa, the evil twins, do as they are asked; but they can also listen in.  They haven’t nailed dreams yet – but I reckon they will.  You hadda’ have a cell phone (I didn’t, but many did) and that little device (in its cute little case) knows exactly where you are most of the time.  Many folks have their entire life history, pictures, account numbers, phone number and  passwords stored somewhere on that cute little genie in their pocket or purse.   Love to text?  Admissible as evidence in many courtrooms; if you lie it’s there and if you don’t, you’re unique.  I don’t text.   The damn thing does everything but fly.  A worse catastrophe than maiming or death is the loss of the cell.  A new level of panic ensues and it ain’t pretty.   Muscular thumbs may also change glove size.  Parents who won’t let their kids watch TV  love baby iPads. Start them early not learning.   Eliminate curiosity, discovery and amazement.   Someone far more intelligent and educated that you are will make sure they learn  everything right away.  And if you have a curious, life-like child – they may very well try to find out things, on their own, as they grow. But I can promise  you that what we called curiosity will be replaced by instant gratification.  Shopping.  All kinds of shopping.  Attention  Lunch Ladies  Browsing, giggling with friends, trying on clothes, squeezing the produce and  finding the last one at a sale is fading into legend.  Summon Proust.   Now you can sail your boat up to some stores and the ‘bosun’ will deliver it dockside. ( this and carry to the car may create new jobs, but they won’t pay much and will surely teach folks to pander for tips).  Faster service.  In some businesses an algorithm evaluates your efficiency –  you are screwed if it finds you a sloth and out you go.  Likely to soon be replaced by AI – they work for nothing and don’t have families to feed.

These are  both the more important and pedestrian things that will fade away.  They will soon ‘what we all do’.  We haven’t even explored the really bad stuff yet.  Social Media.  Invasive Cyber Warfare might describe it better. Learn to hack and rule the planet (or destroy it faster – could go either way, neither of them very appealing.) Pref-schoolers may one day CODE.  It cannot be that hard because so many idiots can do it – but it is more lethal than the Black Mamba, Ebola and plague (choose your favorite).  Hackers are not given enough credit for the havoc they have wreaked.  “Oh, it was hacked”.  Ho-hum. Seriously – the relatively easy ability to code with malicious intent should scare humanity to death.  You read the headlines.  No one is exempt, immune or safe from malware.  It topples political systems, thus nations, spreads lies, encourages bigotry and all this at breakneck speed.Coupled with drones – practice finding places to hide.  Luddites take a lot of razzing, but they also may survive.

Time out for my own favorite:  Our friend the ALGORITHM.  Here is a definition I like:

An algorithm is a step by step method of solving a problem. It is commonly used for data processing, calculation and other related computer and mathematical operations. An algorithm is also used to manipulate data in various ways, such as inserting a new data item, searching for a particular item or sorting an item.

The last sentence is particularly important.  ‘Manipulate data” is essentially where the future lies.  Add it to instant transmission and subject to interpretion by human beings – it is control.  And this folks, is what is happening. This is the point of the entire essay.  We have given up control, minute by minute, everyday we relinquish our independent thoughts to information sources as honest or dishonest as the humans and their algorithms can create.

So your cellphone is NOT secure.  Your decisions are not all your own and your actions are being influenced every second by power disguised as memes, cute little toys, convenience items, chat rooms for friends to meet and chat, dating sites and standbys like your doctor, the post office, the Fed, voting booth and things we don’t even know about.  Money, power, control, indoctrination are just a few ways it works.  Religion, politics, your town hall and the list just goes on and on.

It cannot be stopped because it has made us so dependent we can’t imagine life without it.  We cannot unknow it nor unsee it..  And it may have been intended for a future better equipped to utilize and exist  But it is now,  It is incurable, viral and despite Elon Musk’s race to Mars – all my sci-fi reading convinces me – we won’t be relocating anytime soon.  We are so entranced with destroying our planet – and while it may be sooner than you think – there really is no place to start from scratch.

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