Alive enough

Robotics professor Sherry Turkle has written a new book with a formidable subtitle: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. I read a review of it by Hans Pienaar at Business Day.

The MVP of the future

People’s relationships with their machines will continue to deepen and develop complexity in the future. This is certain. More and more people of all ages will have more and more reason to call a robot their MVP—most valuable person. They can talk and interact with these creatures, and without much trouble the robots can be programmed to tell them what they need to know and want to hear.

The ascendency of robots is not really a sharp turn into a brave new world. It is a continuum that began with the dawn of civilization, when people told stories  and found a way to pass them down and when they invented tools to make their lives more manageable. When you interact with robots, you do not interact with a new race of beings. You interact with software people programmed and data people collected.

Now robots  can act in ways that make them seem alive. That is new. One can get lost in a book, but the book does not come alive except in imagination.

The medium alters the message

One thing that Turkle apparently delves into is how the way we communicate alters our emotional lives as well as the actual information being exchanged. This also seems certain.

Years ago, some people believed that you could not talk about important things on the telephone.  I wonder whether they could even explain why. Something about missing an important part of the interaction, I suppose.

Alone Together  is based on research and case studies.  Sherry Turkle is not writing science fiction.

But I am writing science fiction

My take on the brave new world started with this premise: what if a computer woke up one day, aware of itself, and didn’t know what to say? What if the world that made perfect, orderly sense yesterday was suddenly bright and dangerous, and mined with pitfalls?