Oy The Veldt
If you haven’t read Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Veldt, it’s worth taking a few minutes to check it out. In it, Bradbury paints a dystopic future where children are raised in Holodeck-like virtual realities and their ability to do many basic things atrophy, like taking a bath.
In Grade 10, my English teacher Ms. McLean taught the story and it made an impression on me. I remember thinking about how every cool technology can have ill effects that we need to be wary of. However, while the story sees our limited to do basic things a result of technology spoiling us, it doesn’t bring into account the other side of the equation — that the basic tools to do things are becoming more complex and need specialized knowledge to fix.
While experiencing car troubles, I thought about this. Sure, I’ve become frustrated with going to a garage for basic problems and some repairs I’ve been able to do myself, for others, I’m petrified of touch anything in fear that I’ll break something and make the car inoperable. I now have to wait for available times at the garage and then shlep in and wait their while they repair the car.
For newer hardware, this problem only gets worse. You want to repair something on your own on your Tesla — nope. Soon, many new cars won’t give you access to the engine compartment at all.
The counter benefit of this lack of control is that things just don’t break as much so we don’t need the skills to repair them. The argument of many fans of MacOS over Windows in the past was that they didn’t have to deal with constant updates and freezes. Sure, they couldn’t get as open access to the OS as Windows, but it didn’t matter — things just worked better.
It’s possible that Bradbury foresaw AI becoming as powerful as it is today that more domains considered exclusively human were being done by robots. Art? Counseling? Medicine? Beyond just living a life of leisure where we smoke and drink ourselves to sleep every night, we will be mashing up technologies in new ways and using this tech to build deeper relationships with each other. That’s a human skills that’s at the top of the list. Better than bathing.
Where is this all going? Check out some predictions from 11 years ago at a talk to Engineering department chairs…