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One of my favorite television shows, nowadays—and, frankly, I don’t like much—is The Future Of . . . on the Science Channel. Hosted by Baratunde Thurston, it does more or less what it says on the tin, with segmments on various bits of future technology presumably destined to improve out lives.
Last night’s episode focused on security technology, or, rather, law enforcement technology, which isn’t the same thing. Among the wondrous bits of future featured was something called “brain fingerprinting,” a process that reaches John Anderton-like into a
suspect subject’s brain and plucks out memories. The inventor, Dr. Larry Farwell, was promoting the device for police and counterterrorism interrogations
Leaving aside the fact that it doesn’t seem to work, this is terrifying to those of us who support the rights of the accused. Protection against being compelled to give testimony against yourself is a bedrock of freedom found throughout Anglo-American jurisprudence. You can’t get around it with technology, hypnosis, or promising a suspect a lollipop. There is no way to protect these rights if you reach into someone’s brain and extract what’s within.
Robots are getting closer to integrating into human society. Last week a robot deveoped by Willlow Garage (co-founded by a developer of Google) passed through eight doors and plugged itself into nine outlets. Going through doors is basic to sentient beings but difficult for machines, and imperative for robo-domestic staff and robo-pages in office environments. Plugging itself in is necessary, of course, for power.
It’s not quite robot butlers (or Pintsize), but it’s a step, as it were, in that direction. So where will this lead? Robots are already encroaching on unskilled labor—in factories, for example—and skilled but low-level jobs are a natural next step. And once they’re in our houses, it won’t be long before they move into our bedrooms.
Once the dust has settled and same-sex marriage is recognized nationwide (except New York, at this rate), human-robot relationships are going to be on the radar. Loebner Prize winner David Levy argues (somewhat) convincingly in Love & Sex with Robots that when robots can simulate love, people will fall in love with them. A minority, to be sure, just as a minority of people today are promiscuous as a sexuality, or see prostitutes exclusively, or mate for life (or are gay, for that matter). But there will be some people who find that it’s not humans of any description but robots who excite them; or they may simply happen to meet that special robot who makes them happy.
If you’re on the Internet, as you know, you’re a nerdy loser with no social skills.
However, according to an article in the New York Times, some senior citizens who have little opportunity to interact with people are finding social networking sites such as Facebook help them stay engaged with the world.
The average age of my Facebook friends appears to be mid-30s, but I can certainly see how it might be beneficial to the housebound elderly. Indeed, social networking is useful to all manner of marginalized populations
(And even the shy: I met my first partner on Usenet, years ago, which indirectly led to meeting my current partner on LiveJournal in 2004.)
A quote I’ve always treasured is “on the Internet, everything and nothing is normal.” This was meant as a dig at people who try to outweird each other (and at people into freaky-ass shit who take refuge in the fact that there are others like them, as though finding a community of phryneroticists makes doing toads not be weird.) But there’s also a positive side. It is useful for making people feel less alone, and gives people who feel stigmatized—e.g., by illness or old age—a place to find their fellows and interact with their peers.
(I could have written about orgasms, but no. In my defense, that would inevitably led to my talking about my sex life, and neither of us wants that.)