Man and Machine

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Man and Machine

Man’s ability to create is awesome in many ways and very influential over life.

Take agriculture.  It was transformed by the invention of the “three-point-linkage”.  For city types, it’s the reason why there is lots of food in M&S.

But odd things happen with machines.  Man begins to endow their mechanical inventions with strange (almost magical and supernatural) powers.

Take the camera.  It was soon said ‘the camera never lies’.  Then people learned that it not only lies but is a tool for lying, slander and propaganda.

Then along came television and the idea that a thing must be true because they saw it on the news.  Only to learn that corporations and journalists lie and manufacture stories.

Then came computers.  And what havoc have they brought us. They have been endowed with infallibility.  If a thing is not on the screen it doesn’t exist.  Period.  One’s name, records, appointments and a host of other things magically don’t exist because they are not seen on the screen.  No matter how ludicrous the answer is.

Take something simple.  An item is ordered.  When it comes it is wrong.  It was patently obvious to anyone who looked, that it was so.  The person who lifted it off the shelf in the warehouse read the code and ignored the content.  Trying to get the supplier to ‘see’ that it was wrong is nigh impossible.  They merely insist upon sending out the same item time after time.  And all because the machine said it was so.

Man creates and then endows his creation with extraordinary power to the level of infallibility.  This not a new problem.

The prophet Isaiah addresses such and what a pitiful description he gives.

In chapter 40 he speaks of the rich who make gods from metal then cover them in gold and hang silver chains upon it.  The poor use hardwood instead.  They fashion a god then they worship it and they call upon their man-made god to deliver them!  If it were not so serious it would be hilarious.  But worse comes.  From what is left over they use as firewood without realising how stupid they are.

Isaiah gives us the explanation.  They know nothing, see nothing, and understand nothing.

The Psalmist tells us they that make them, are like them (Ps 115:8) – unthinking, unknowing, unfeeling.  How tragic.         

It’s the very same with machines (computers).  We make them, then attribute to them infallibility.  We trust them implicitly, unquestioningly, unhesitatingly.  To even suggest that the PC is wrong is seen as ludicrous.  How can it be wrong?  It never errs.  It never makes a mistake.  It is godlike.  Supreme.  All-knowing.  This is the brave new world we have entered.Man is the slave.  Machine is the master.

Ironically while most have read Orwell’s, few have considered Huxley’s.  In Orwell’s works the State oppresses and imprisons, and books are banned or burnt.  In Huxley’s world we are distracted by trivia.  Machinery does everything for us.  There is no need to ban books or burn them because no one reads.  They are entertained.  They are ‘informed’.  Information and knowledge is everywhere so that there is no need to ‘know’ anything.  As Huxley saw things, it was not that people were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking at all!

Neil Postman puts the difference between Orwell and Huxley this way: What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.  What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.  Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.

Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.  Huxley feared the truth will be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture.  Huxley feared we would become a trivialised culture preoccupied with some equivalent of the geekiest, the orgy porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

In 1984 people are controlled by pain.  In Brave New World they are controlled by pleasure.

It is this mind numbing senselessness that Scripture warns us of. That know nothing, think nothing, understand nothing mentality which engulfs a nation because it casts off revelation for experimentation.  It’s the old lie of Satan to Eve.

It merely took man 3000 years to figure this out before writing about it.  How refreshing to be educated by Scripture – “in thy light shall we see light” (Ps 36:9).