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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Futurism: Avoid Becoming Egregiously Electronically Eggheadish or Face Catastrophic Loss of Control

Chapter 5 of Back to My Future: My Life and Times at Purdue University

Two four six eight time to differentiate. D to the x, dx/dy d to the y/dy. Three point one four one five nine. Cosine, tangent, inverse sine add an asymptotic line that’s the egghead battle cry. (Modified Northwestern chant from the 1980s.)

Yes, the number crunchers of the world – the software/app creators who simulate, model, and devilishly devise cool-until-they’re-not financial derivatives, along with the World of Warcraft – do rule the world. We now love them – “hey, I can socialize with this cool plastic holding LED box in my palm” – whereas, just thirty years prior, we made John Hughes-like films that poked fun, then hugged them for being, “our strange, little, geeky friend.”

Coming back to a campus loaded with technocratic guys and gals-in-training (given my old major as an engineer), to be a liberal artsy fartsy is a lesson in humility. (Another lesson – yep, get those too much.) The cool people used to be easily defined via the American ideal sold Eskimo-style via modern mass media: the leggy blonde that just needs a rubber band for the hair, and she’s good; the V-shaped guy with abs of steel created with iron, calisthenics, and huge scoops of Creatine. I get that. Or, I got that, as is the case.

Nerds, now, not so much.

Now, in my mid-life, all these Java-scripting, data mining, Flash-and-beyond gurus are awfully full of themselves. The world works to their skills, and suddenly, I’m redundant in actions and conversations. (An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) would put things back to a more manageable level…like 1600.) There is this tendency to come at you (the nerds’ approach to friendship): hey, do you know this programming language or how to hack (or reengineer) this application? You don’t, well you are not worthy of my nanoseconds. Because I don’t build apps or do apps, or buy every type of hand-held, my- world-is-complete tool, I must be uncool, oddly ancient, and seen as an artifact of a bygone time.


Just when I finally get to the point of an odd, trial-by-fire assuredness in self, I am now considered solely a sinusoidal function of my technological knowledge and consumerism acquisition – which, if you knew my life recently – one would understand mere survival was a 1,000 terabytes more important that iPoding, iPhoning, and iPading my way back to the lower-middle rung of the American social ladder. Such is the globalized nature of these ones and zeroes – they control every transaction, interaction, transportation, and social act humanity seems to engage in daily.

And here I come back to university for history, political science, economics, and management (yes, some tech stuff in there) and I’ll-be-damned if the world has not gone and got itself into a harried and frenetic rush to be more Neo, Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves-like. Not exactly the category I’d take for 1,000, Alex. The majority may deem this the primrose path; I deem it the course to devolving into very wooden, two-dimensional, on/off, as-the-circuit-board- decides-based-on-the-program people. You are not ‘the one’, people.

Tell me: what happens when this machine awakens? Or if not that, what if electricity/electronics goes awry? How about making all that power for 9 or 12 billion inhabitants, or more? Do you like being able to do things for yourself – consider it a right – then look out, that will be changing in the apps-for-all-tasks future. Facebook and Google are stepping stones. Likely as not, we are two to two-to-the-nth power generations away from an Alpha-to-Epsilon Brave New World. I do not know when, but 2540 is not as far from now as it seems. (Just as Huxley wrote in 1932…about a future that is closer to today than it was in his generation. Exponential growth of the ghost in the machine, I deduce.)

By now, my poking-fun-at-nerds to digressing-satirical-rant may seem at odds in the halls of ‘higher learning’, but it reflects the purposes we are fueling are not as wondrous as those that make them daily come together think. They are flawed. Nerds take note. While all the cool stuff does amused, it is the financial models, the personality testing/modifications, the medicines that contort behaviors from age six, the genetically-modified food, the technology-dependent structure of society that will shudder one day to a halt, as we have invested too much faith in the machines, the codes, the flickering of tubes, the diodes, and the 10,000-page equation someone (or a team of brilliance) worked really hard on, but forgot the necessary backdoor, thus the butterfly cum epic tsunami.

It won’t happen in my lifetime, I regret to inform.

But nothing happens quite in the time frame one projects.

Avoid becoming too tied to these new systems. Somehow, the Earth got along pretty well for 99.999999999% of its existence without a diode, transistor, or machine code to tap into for instructions. The instructions we petty humans were given (and not followed) worked well when man played with poo, worshiped all manners of beast and bright star, to a conclusion that was never deterministic. Not even realistic – given their faith-based technology.

What I am saying is: I wish for my good ol’ simplistic days, too.

Just that line does not suit the technocrats, computer scientists, and doctors of electrical mayhem very well.

They always need more data…

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