Dystopians and dog leashes

Often some of the time in seminars goes into editing your own presentation and being nervous about your upcoming performance (which in my luck is always the second day, first in the morning, and there had been conference reception the night before!). This time when I attended AboagoraThe Human Machine 
was purely out of interest and curiosity, inspired by the impressing key note speakers and workshops. My first thought was “oh what geekery fun!” and it remained the entire three day seminar in one of my favorite – if not the most favorite – cities in Finland, Turku.

Seminar venue was at Sibelius museum, splendid location! Me in the front with Daniel Feld. Photograph by Otto-Ville Väätäinen.

And my expectations were met. The first day ways opened by Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, where he carries out research into
artificial intelligence, control and robotics. In his presentation, which I unfortunately did not listen from the beginning, he talked about the possibilities of linking human brains to computers, creating robots with biological brains, and finally Practical Turing Test results (over half of the audience could not tell the difference between human and computer communicating!).

Kevin Warwick. Photo by Otto Ville Väätäinen.

Fascinating stuff, but also very much provoking to dystopian thinkers, which I have also had the questionable pleasure of meeting during my research and presentations. When I have talked about his presentation afterwards I always seemed to need to clarify the possible outcomes (especially) in medical sciences, where for example stroke victims and patients with MS can benefit from technology aiding to restore the lost functions of the body. Otherwise the people I have talked to have frowned and made that smacking sound with their mouth accompanied with rolling of eyes.

Popular culture and movies such as the Terminator are often too much in peoples mind, where the first impression is to reject linking computer technology into human brain, since “it can only mean bad things and the world will end”.

As an avid science fiction reader I am always enthusiastic about the possibilities introduced by this specific genre of literature, since many of the inventions presented for example in sci-fi literature of the mid 20th century, are already here. (Rabdoud University researchers have been able to use MRI scanner to actually see what letter the test subject is reading and thinking, isn’t that something!? Read more in Helsingin Sanomat.)

However, the dystopian/utopian discussion/debate was continued throughout the seminar and was provoked especially by the key note subjects (more here and here), which led me thinking where is this dystopian belief originating? Why do so many people believe technology will destroy us, since it is the users of the technology are the ones defining the use of the technology? It is not the atomic bomb that spontaneously went and bombed Hiroshima, but the people using the bomb.

There seems to be a child-like belief, that technology – as a subject and an agent – can do something to us as humanity and we are the mere objects, sufferers and innocent in all possible outcomes (poor us!). As a dog owner I love to apply dog training philosophies any were I can, which is why I argue it is not the dog, who is acting bad, it is the owner on the other end of the leash allowing/provoking the behavior.

All in all, discussion is always good, and I thoroughly enjoyed this seminar, not only because I am a huge fan of Iron Sky andmet Samuli Torssonen, but also because I personally rarely have to opportunity to join a seminar just out of pure fun and interest.

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