11: The Digital Machine

We watched some very interesting videos the other day in class. They were informative, thought-provoking, well done, and funny (at least in part). Here are some links to them so that if you decide to read on in this post, you’ll know what I’m talking about (XD): The Bendito Machine III, a TED talk on Filter Bubbles, and The Machine is Us/ing Us. (Also, I don’t know how you feel about spoilers, so if you don’t want me to give you any spoilers about these videos, watch the videos first. :))

“Bendito Machine III” was, in my mind, a brilliant social commentary about how we view and use machines, primarily TVs, in our everyday lives. In this video, a ‘primitive’ group of humans discovers a TV, which they set up on a altar, replacing the previous statue that stood there. Soon, the TV becomes a part of their daily lives, and everything they do centers around it. The women watch exercise programs, and obey all the instructions the TV is telling them to do, because, as we all know (this is sarcasm, by the way), women are very vain about their figures and will do anything to be thin. The little children follow the TV like the Pied Piper when it plays a children’s program. They cross a bridge after it, over a dangerous ravine (probably a river), which I’m sure their parents would never have allowed before the TV entered their lives. When the TV turns maniacal and begins killing people and displaying a terrifying face, they run away and attempt to appease it, instead of turning it off or throwing it away, which seems like it would be the sensible thing to do. When it finally is displaced by the next new technology, the people throw it in the dump without a second thought. How many people do that nowadays with their ‘outdated’ cell phones and computers? What a waste!

The next two videos, the TED Talk and “The Machine is Us/ing Us”, were strikingly similar in the message they conveyed. “The Machine is Us/ing Us” is a video created by a cultural anthropology professor at Kansas State University to show the history and modern uses of what is known as “Web 2.0”. He explains quickly but clearly the beginnings of the different languages and formats used on and created for the Internet. Near the end of the video, he goes in to how we are teaching parts of the Internet such as Yahoo, YouTube, and now Facebook, what our preferences are, what we want to see, and even who we are, without knowing. Eli Pariser’s TED talk elaborates on that idea. He gives an example of two of his friends that he asked to Google the word “Egypt” on their computers and then send him a screenshot. The results were dramatically different. Both his friends were the same age, they were both Caucasian, and they both lived in the same city, but one of them saw articles on the wars, strife, and dissent in Egypt on his front page, and the other saw articles and ads on travelling to Egypt and the wonderful tourist attractions there.

Many people think of these machines learning as a terrible idea, and withdraw themselves completely from the Internet, and are terrified that somehow someone will be able to find them and will exploit them or hurt them in some way. I think those fears are unfounded. I do think there’s such a thing as too much information about yourself on the Internet, but I don’t think that the remote possibility of someone finding you from your search results is something to be completely paranoid about. I would like to know, though, sometimes, what search results am I missing because Google thinks I want to see one thing in particular?

Learn on…

2 thoughts on “11: The Digital Machine

  1. I was quite fascinated with the whole “machine is learning” thing, it reminds me of a book that was in the sci-fi catalogues we used to receive once in a blue moon. It was a series actually with three books titled WWW: Wake, WWW: Watch, and WWW: Wonder. The books are about a blind mathematical genius who is given an implant to restore her vision, but instead of seeing the real world around her, she sees the world of the internet and the being beginning to take shape inside of it. Basically the internet is becoming sentient and she is the only one who can see it. It was an interesting premise for a book, and though I’ve never read it, I’d like to. I think that is what we think of when we hear that the internet is learning. We think it is becoming sentient. I wonder if that is what’s happening….

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