The technology I find charming, delightful, and useful is the tech with very conspicuous limitations. It helps with a specific task – and then it retreats.

Only with such limitations will the technology truly support my needs. When the technology intrudes any further, *my* efforts will ultimately support *its* needs.

That’s one reason those “It looks like you’re writing a business letter…” tools were so annoying, despite their utility – and why I personally find those “Dim the lights, Alexa” commercials so disturbing.

*****

Technology is useful, but so are boundaries. The public rejected Google Glass because it directly assaulted boundaries of privacy – not of the user, but of everybody else.

That Google Glass users could not understand that was not a coincidence; it was closer to a symptom.

The crossing of boundaries is much easier to accept when it is not YOUR boundaries being crossed. (Offramp to “cultural appropriation” thread…)

Social and cultural boundaries will always fluctuate between decades and communities. The intrusion of technology already seems welcome to some and profoundly threatening to others – and both with good reason.

*****

All of the above sounds uncomfortably close to discussions of people or ethnic groups “knowing their place”. Robots are not people – we need not recognize the humanity of robots, and we must not empower corporations as if they were citizens despite corporations’ non-corporeal needs and desires. The topic is vitally important and disquieting specifically because we have not yet set effective boundaries which artificial intelligence must and will observe.

****

Steampunk is popular in part because it represents a fantasy level of technology that is absorbing and wondrous, but also completely focused on human causes. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but very little steampunk artwork seems to focus on Artificial Intelligence.) The focus is always on invention and craftsmanship and discovery, with physical danger and surrender to a roboticized system looming only in the far distance.

*****

Star Wars had such an impact in part because R2-D2 and C-3P0 represented intelligent technology playing a specific, *limited* role.

It’s actually R2D2’s story, and he represented technology offering exactly the right level of mission-focused independence and people-focused devotion.

C3P0 became such an effete bother because he was aligned with the mission but had no meaningful role to play within it. (Same with Jar Jar!) If Luke had been just a bit less skilled and devoted to the task, he would have been just as annoying.

Advertisements