Are Computers Humane?3 min read
My connection here is spotty so I don't know if this will post correctly. It's early morning and this is the only time I can grab a few meager bits of bandwith to transmit.
I'm away in the boonies for a while, staying with people whose grasp of our magic boxes isn't very strong. Watching them struggle, intervening when asked, and responding to questions has made me wonder if the esoteric language of modern computers is really to our benefit.
The litany of things to learn and understand to simply participate in society today is much greater than just 30 years ago. But 30 years ago, the relative lack of sophistication in our computers, compared to today, also made it possible to actually learn what the machine was doing and, if necessary, dive into the internals.
Today, dissecting the instruction path of a piece of code is nearly impossible. Complexity, optimization, obfuscation, and a patchwork of propiertary bulwarks against competitors has all but ensured that we don't completely understand how a computer actually functions, even if we are the ones to give it instructions. The instructions themselves are largely out of reach of the vast majority of people who use computers.
A computer now has layers of functionalty built up on millions of lines of code, none of which is understood by any one individual at once. All of this is ostensibly progress as we can do more with our devices, including share posts such as these. It has come with a terrible price.
The word "cyber" has so many uses and is thrown about so freely at present, it doesn't even have a consistent meaning anymore. In the programming world, non-specific placeholders are often called "foo" and "bar". The word cyber has become our "foo" for anything computer related.
In the original context, this used to refer to the near-future of spaces and possibilities that came with the connected computer revolution. Nowadays, it is a prefix applied to everything remotely computer related and it also implies tech esoterica thanks to a largely tech-illiterate media and public. Cybercrime, cyberspace, cyberpunk. That last part is what's relevant here.
Cyberpunk fiction has all sorts of connotations implying ubiquitous familiarity with computers and networks, rebellion against authority, as well as undertones of dysfunction and dystopia. Depending on the author, the intensity of each can vary significantly. We're not living in a cyberpunk dystopia yet, but the undretones are already here.
It's greatly problematic that people have their lives facilitated, governed, and even curtalied with the use of computers which they themselves do not understand. The end effect of this fundamental reality is that a perveasive shadow layer obscured by complexity, jargon, and ignorance is now interwoven with the fabric of society.
The shadow layer underpins much of the infastructure of civilization. And yet so few understand the critical aspects. None understand it in its entireity. We're asked to remain aboard a steam ship navigating the rough seas of life and no one understands how the boilers work, save for a lone engineer who we hope has our best in interest in mind.
We have systematically excluded people from understanding the mechanisms of society and computers play a large part in the exclusion. As arbiters of technology, the programmers, designers, artists, and those who conceptualize the inner workings and outer manifestations of our magic boxes owe a duty to society to be transparent. Instead, they build upon past layers for convineince while the mechinanics of predatory economics and current social strata are embraced; They are as opaque as volcanic ash.
Computers, as they are currently used, are not humane.