PREDICTION OF THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY......THROUGH SCIENCE
We watched two science fiction movies, "The Time Machine"
and "Blade Runner," in order to look at how science
fiction writers have attempted to predict the social impact of technology.
Below are notes from our discussion of these two films
The Time Machine
"The Time Machine" was made in 1960 and based on H.G. Wellsís 1895 book
of the same name.
Scenario: The film describes how a British inventor, George, created
a "time machine." With the machine, he was able to travel from his time
period (year 1899) to the future (year 802,701). In that period, humans
(called Eloi) had become passive fodder for cave dwelling cannibals (Morlocks).
The film holds a pessimistic view that
technology, instead of facilitating a better life for human beings,
may destroy human civilization by means of war and therefore return humans
back to a primitive situation. There is no government or law in this
future dystopia. Human beings are passive and not interested in acquiring
knowledge, lack self-motivation and critical capability, and show indifference
to each other.
Do past visions of future information technologies have come true?
The film imagines a fourth dimension (virtual space) outside the three
dimensions we are living in. With the time machine, people are able to
surpass the limit of time. Presently, we do have a fourth dimension (virtual
space). It is cyberspace. The virtual space in the real world, however,
enables human being to transcend the spatial limit.
Information Storage: In the film, "talking rings" passed on knowledge Books
were nonexistent as forms of information storage. Human beings donít even
remember how to spell. It implies that machines will replace the role of
print in accumulating knowledge. We do have a machine with the function
like "talking ring" such as electronic media; but it is too early to determine
whether that electronic machine will replace or supplement print.
According to the film, the groups with knowledge control the power. This
seems true in a closed political system such as communist or authoritarian
regimes. The ruling class strengthens their power by means of suppressing
dissenting viewpoints. In an open system such as the capitalist system,
knowledge can be used to make money.
Desensitization: In the film, while the girl, Weena, almost drowns to death,
no one even tries to save her life. It was a terrifying signal of desensitization
brought about by technology. A good example of desensitization in our world
is the downturn in political participation and decrease in election turnout.
However, tribalism enthusiasm may increase in the information age at the
same time. We can see more and more protesting groups or subgroups occurring
in our society. As some scholars argue, the two forces of integration and
disintegration exist simultaneously in the world.
Here are some links to a few sites about H.G. Wells:
At the end of the movie, George goes back to 1899 for a few hours and then
decides to go "back to the future" to help the Eloi "rebuild" their society.
The only things he takes with him are three books from the bookshelf. What
three books would you take with you if you wanted to construct a new society?
Based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,
this 1982 film follows a rugged detective on a mission to track down and
retire (eliminate) four replicants (i.e. genetically engineered humans
of superior strength and intelligence) in Los Angeles in 2019. The film
is woven along two axes: the relationships between western culture and
eastern culture as well as the relationship between human beings and replicants.
The city of Los Angeles in 2019 is portrayed by the film as full
of eastern culture. According to the film, eastern culture is going to
be internalized into western culture naturally in the future. Therefore
people no longer feel it as "exotic" and there is no confrontation between
these two cultures. It implies that two-way information flow is going to
take place in the future system.
Western Culture vs. Eastern Culture
Instead of a reciprocal model, the information flow in current world
system appears to be one-way flow, typically from the western countries
to the nonwestern countries. It fosters a trend of globalization, which
is a synonym of westernization.
There seems to have some clues of two-way information flow in the global
system. For example, pizza is a kind of popular food in the western society.
People enjoyed this food without noticing that it originated from a kind
of Chinese food called "cong-you-cake" in ancient China. The recipe
of "cong-you-cake" was brought to western society by an Italian explorer
who visited the ancient China in the Yuan Dynasty. However, through the
hands of market, cultural sense is no longer embedded in this product.
The film predicts that technology is able to produce artificial creations
and reproduce human beings. It is ironic that human being in the future
don't trust "real people" but rely on the artificial creations. It is illustrated
by a man's words: "They ( the artificial dolls) are my best friends."
It seems that the human nature of human beings is going to vanish with
the revolution of technology.
Human Being vs. Replicants
The replicants in the film are portrayed as diabolical. It implies that
technology is able to reproduce the human species but is not able to reproduce
human nature. Thus, replicants threaten the security of human being and
human beings try their best to "retire" (terminate) them. Therefore the
relationship between replicants and human beings is nervous.
In the film, while the male replicant sees the body of his companion
who is killed by the human detective, he shows a sense of sympathy that
he is not supposed to have. Is this sense of sorrow teaching him something
of humanity and human life? And this is why he saves the life of
the detective who killed his companions (or we can say "friend" at this
moment) and try to kill him as well.
Is a Replicant a Human Being? The theme of the film is that technology
may reproduce the world, but it may not reproduce the humanity. The meanings
of human being cannot be interpreted without the contextual settings in
terms of history, culture and society. The film upholds a respect toward
lives. If the replicant realize the significance of life, they can be viewed
as human being and their lives are worth of respecting for sure. Human
being can't justified their slaughter toward replicants any more.
Last modified: 15 December 1999
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