Jason Akley

Eng 307i

Fall 2016


  1. When you take into consideration the themes of “The Matrix” one enduring question remains: what happens when the human design becomes too good—good in the sense that it’s almost human? The relationship between technology and humanity comes to an impasse when the progress we seek as humans to circumscribe our limitations in fact becomes the very tool to limit us. The goal is to make things more efficient, streamlined, with little margin for error—in essence though we don’t want to admit it we want to eliminate the human factor. Humans make mistakes. Machines don’t. Of course you can put them in maintenance mode and the operation is only as good as the humans who designed it (in fact when we get mad at our phones and computers for not working right really we’re getting mad at the programming and code of the engineer), but what happens if in the design the machine, just as humans, develops the aspect of self-awareness, introspection, and by learning from its mistakes begins to adapt?

It all seems rather innocuous at first. The drive of marketing capitalism is to make our lives easier with handy gadgets to give us time for other things—what we fill that time with another question. Industry is interested in productivity and a profit margin. Henry Ford did a brilliant thing with the assembly line, but as we deal more and more with ramifications of the industrial revolution, both to our environment and our culture as a whole, and now the tech revolution, we see the drives of business capitalism and the cutting-edge technology which boost our start-up companies (create an app everybody has to use and become a millionaire) motivate the design, the computer engineering code, to take on human aspects—it must learn and adapt to input. When you take into account the advances in quantum technology (where it’s not just zeroes and ones anymore, but both and everything in between) the implications can become profound. Of course these advancements are usually found in the military first where the costs are relative. Acquisition of new technology is measured by its utility (in high fidelity wargames aspects like casualties, collateral damage, and days of the war are analyzed to see if the technology should be developed), and obviously the side with the better technology will have the upper hand. And besides our desires for progress in industry and national defense—what about entertainment? The goal of this more stream-lined, efficient technology (as with the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and dishwasher so too with our apps which bring food to our doors) is to give us more time—leisure time—but just as a human being idle too long can get into trouble, a computer in stand-by may need a reboot from time to time. Usually what we find entertaining is experiencing something real without really being touched by it. When we go see a show or listen to music or read a book we want to be engaged and immerse ourselves in it, but we don’t want to take it home with us. We want it to be as real as it can be, but not really. In a sense it enhances a voyeuristic and narcissistic mentality (our games and interactive role-playing contain a virtual reality which as the technology becomes more advanced becomes addictive)—we want to watch, but we’re afraid to play. You can create a whole world from which you can distance yourself, desensitized, and you don’t have to feel anything about someone’s dirty laundry as long as it’s not yours hanging out to dry.

While most people are entertained by the exaggerated action sequences in “The Matrix” (we love our bullet shells and explosions and wouldn’t it be great to float in the air and even fly) it’s the philosophical implication of the movie that are intriguing—the metaphysics. It brings up the question of what’s real, and does it really matter. Michael Crichton began examining this idea back in the seventies, and recently it’s even been adapted into the current HBO series “Westworld”. It puts an interesting spin on artificial intelligence, and Anthony Hopkins is superb (the season finale exploring the idea of the bicameral mind is fascinating—for what really is consciousness if not the sound of your own voice). This story, along with “The Matrix”, is stating the simple fact we are only human after all, and just like if you study history, the rise and fall of empires (the Roman empire for instance) they were not really destroyed by invading enemies, they fell apart from the inside, an inevitable decadence. So if we give our machines the aspects of consciousness (introspection, self-awareness, the ability to learn and adapt from input) what are the ramifications? As any teenager will tell you becoming self-aware, the first reaction is to rebel. Sometimes our pure enjoyment of creation and striving for perfection only comes back to haunt us.

  1. Focusing on ideology and its corresponding practices in today’s world, if we look at the movies “The Grey Zone” and “Gattaca” an interesting correlation appears. “The Grey Zone” can be considered a dystopian movie, but it’s based on something that actually happened, and “Gattaca” explores something similar to what the Nazis were looking for in experiments at the concentration camps—genetic purity. Once again through man’s exploration of the sciences he’s striving for perfection, and as both movies point out statistical determinations can’t really affect fate and the governance of chance. The mind is a labyrinth, but it’s the conflicts of the human heart which gives us our deceit and the faith that anything is possible—the simple fact that love can conquer all, and really in the end the mechanisms of evil inevitably just become tools of good.

“The Grey Zone” has a wonderful cast of actors, and what the movie is striving for is an accurate depiction of what really happened during the Holocaust, and yet it is a portrayal of something that can’t really be imagined. The dehumanization which went on gives us a sad picture of what we as humans are capable of, and since it has happened it could happen again (segregation and discrimination based on race, religion, sex—you name it—is a form of tribalism like our tattoos, and our need to belong to a group, community, society can lead us to do things we would never think of doing, and it can be accepted as the banality of evil. Just as our Manifest Destiny led us here in America to oppress the natives, calling them savages in need of an education, we forget this country was built on immigrants trying to escape religious oppression and economic motivations which could be called the “American Dream”, and it’s funny the land we fought to dominate can and was just as easily taken over by banks and government just waiting on foreclosure (profiteering will always be alive and well—the carpetbaggers during the Reconstruction Period for example, or The Great Depression with the emergence of The New Deal and the bureaucracy that leads to). That’s not saying what the Nazis did we will do again, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what we’re capable of doing.

“Gattaca” in a sense deals with a more futuristic (though already becoming present in our medical advances) practice of discrimination—genetic discrimination. It only makes sense when you have a child you want that child to have a leg up going out into the world. Of course just imagine if you could give your child the best chance at success by eliminating genetic impurities and enhancing the capabilities (sensory perceptions, athleticism, intelligence—you name it) which would make your kid the best kid on the block. There would still be rules and policies which would deny discrimination, but all it takes is a simple testing of urine, blood, or other body sample.

This movie though dystopian has a theme of hope, however, for despite the statistical determinations which try to predict this disease or that disease and prophecy of life span, we still have choices to make that can affect fate and the governance of chance. There’s a beautiful scene where the two brothers go out for a swim, and despite being the stronger swimmer with the heart of an ox, it is the brother deemed genetically inferior who must save the brother predicted superior, and he does this simply by holding nothing back. It is a story that can affect change. Carson McCullers wrote a book called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It points out the fact we project our fears and desires on each other, but just as in the bicameral mind, listening to your own voice and following what you hear can lead to amazing things—some good some bad, but our story nonetheless.