Eliminating the Human
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that
are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we
have with each other.
I have a theory that much recent tech development and inno-
vation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching
agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with
less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug—
it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about making books
available to us that we couldn’t find locally—and it was, and what
a brilliant idea—but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human contact.
The consumer technology I am talking about doesn’t claim
or acknowledge that eliminating the need to deal with humans
directly is its primary goal, but it is the outcome in a surprising
number of cases. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary
goal, even if it was not aimed at consciously. Judging by the evidence, that conclusion seems inescapable.
This then, is the new norm. Most of the tech news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots, and self-driving cars,
all of which fit this pattern. I am not saying that such developments are not e;cient and convenient; this is not a judgment.
I am simply noticing a pattern and wondering if, in recognizing
that pattern, we might realize that it is only one trajectory of
many. There are other possible roads we could be going down,
and the one we’re on is not inevitable or the only one; it has been
(possibly unconsciously) chosen.
I realize I’m making some wild and crazy assumptions and
generalizations with this proposal—but I can claim to be, or to
have been, in the camp that would identify with the unacknowledged desire to limit human interaction. I grew up happy but
also found many social interactions extremely uncomfortable. I
often asked myself if there were rules somewhere that I hadn’t
been told, rules that would explain it all to me. I still sometimes
have social niceties “explained” to me. I’m often happy going to
a restaurant alone and reading. I wouldn’t want to have to do
that all the time, but I have no problem with it—though I am
sometimes aware of looks that say “Poor man, he has no friends.”
So I believe I can claim some insight into where this unspoken
urge might come from.
Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s
mind-set, as complicated, ine;cient, noisy, and slow. Part of
making something “frictionless” is getting the human part out
of the way. The point is not that making a world to accommo- A N