A machine is something that is used to reduce the amount of energy and work that we exert. Decades of scientific progress have resulted in such inventions as the telephone, the computer and the automobile, which are designed to make our lives a little easier. And yet, as science-fiction films and novels continue to hint, another few centuries might see technology increasing in so much complexity and sophistication that artificial intelligence condemns us to a world of machine-controlled slavery.
Machines can lead to nothing but evil. At least, so it seemed to me on a dismal morning last month in the parking lot of my apartment. As I struggled in vain to release the parking brake on my roommate’s car, I pondered whether the inventions I use every day really make my life less difficult.
There had been the supposedly infallible alarm clock this morning, which had smugly refused to go off so that I was already a half hour late for class.
My hairdryer hadn’t turn on, despite being plugged in. Then there had been the toaster oven, which had slyly fried my bagel to a burnt crisp during the 10 seconds I stepped away from it to deal with the senseless beeping of my coffee maker. Pulling a coffee mug from the dishwasher, I noticed that it was filled with soap residue. I had eyed my appliances suspiciously. They were working together, I just knew it.
I sat in class 40 minutes later, after completing a series of maneuvers to release the parking brake, recording the lecture and taking notes on my trusty laptop. I realized suddenly that the words I was typing were no longer appearing on the screen: they were replaced instead by an infuriating hourglass turning itself over and over again.
I watched in panic as the document disappeared in front of my eyes, hours of work lost in cyberspace. My laptop whirred ominously. The screen went black. Images of Keanu Reeves battling his enemies flashed through my mind as I collapsed in despair.
So this is how the matrix had begun. Reduced to taking notes by hand, I scribbled furiously on my notebook and realized I wasn’t writing anything. It seemed even my mechanical pencil had turned against me and run out of lead. I couldn’t take it anymore.
The machines were on a warpath, and every blown fuse and error message was just an indicator of our downfall. I wondered at leaving the technological world behind. Perhaps we should assume a sagely life of the outdoors, ignore all forms of machinery and return to our natural states. My Buddhist reverie was interrupted by the realization that I couldn’t live without unlimited texting or my curling iron. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice “Jersey Shore” re-runs or e-mail for freedom.
It was then that I understood that the machines had already won. They did exactly what they were designed to do: make everything easier, enhance our lives to the point where we could not live without them.
Blackberries and blow dryers had become as much a part of our lives as breathing and blinking. Our fate was sealed, and it was only a matter of time.
So I write this, cautiously, from my laptop (which has resurrected itself, naturally), hoping it won’t turn against me at any second. I pray that the vending machine won’t eat my quarters, that the paper won’t jam in the printer, and that my cell phone won’t go off in the middle of lecture. The machines are everywhere, and they are powerful. All we can do is hope that they behave.