Machines make life easier, not better

"I have a profound fear of tomorrow’s innovations. Transhumanism, the technological and philosophical transformation of humans into posthumans, strikes me as a not-so-distant reality.

"We have already conquered many of our environment’s physical challenges, and now we are attempting to overcome the mental obstacles that once seemed thoroughly impervious. That idea is far from terrifying, it’s fantastic.

"But with that notion comes something so surreal and so alarming: we will, eventually, formulate technology that will leave us without a purpose.

"Technology was once a collection of tools which improved our abilities to perform routine tasks, but the future seems to include operator-free machines, self-replicating nano chips and adaptive artificial intelligence.

"Our tasks, it seems, will no longer require us.

"Yes, this means cheaper production costs, less physical strain on human beings and, maybe most importantly, a level of efficiency and proficiency that even the keenest humans could never replicate.

"Essentially, I believe we are working toward a future with perfect operations.

"We will create this future, but we will not participate in it. The idea of technology evolving from a tool and into a means signifies a system that has no use for organisms that require breaks, inputs and incentives.

"Similar to the Pixar film "Wall-E," I envision a forthcoming period where humans are left without responsibilities. It sounds glorious: we can finally do as we please, without doing what we must. But I imagine that, instead, it will be horrifying.

"Let me provide an example to illustrate why I possess this fear: when I was 15, I spent my summer vacation digging holes and weeding gardens. These were physically and mentally exhausting tasks that required tools but, ultimately, depended on me, a human. This was, oddly, one of the most rewarding jobs I have held; I felt accomplished at the end of every day, and I never felt as if I didn’t have a purpose in this process.

"A few years later, my job required me to drive equipment and marine biology students to field stations along the Jersey Shore. Technology, the van I operated, removed the physical strain of this job; I transcended my body and acted as nothing more than the automobile’s brain. This was a mentally draining task—navigating through rush-hour traffic on Interstate 95 will never be anything but—but it was far from rewarding.

"Neither job was particularly exciting, nor were they monetarily sufficient, but both were strenuous. However, the physical connection to my landscaping efforts instilled more purpose than my attempt at chauffeuring.

"So what happens when this idea is taken a step further, and human mental abilities are removed from processes that already exclude physical involvement? I can’t provide a definitive answer, but I know that backing up my computer, turning on the lights in my turtle tanks and picking the next song in my iTunes playlist provide me with absolutely no sense of reward or purpose, and all of those processes are self-automated, free from my involvement.

"I realize that I may never take part in the future I fear, but I fear that future may be realized.