The Matrix trilogy offers a clear dystopian perspective on technology. What's interesting about these films is that they focus this perspective on an ever-growing aspect of technology: robotics.
There are several recent instances in the news about "autonomous" robots. They are often portrayed as being capable of "thinking for themselves".
Just a decade ago, this was the stuff of pure fiction. Films like The Matrix trilogy; as well as Terminator and I, Robot were scarcely imaginable. But not so much anymore.
More and more, as technology advances, the idea of having sophisticated robots is becoming a lot less fictional.
News stories about "super sophisticated" robots continue to pop-up frequently, and predictions are being made as to when we will see the production of "super-sophisticated" robots.
Here are some good recent examples:
‘Swarms of Cooperative, Autonomous’ Robots to Hit Battlefields
Autonomous, human-sized security robots are almost here
ELON MUSK: You Have No Idea How Close We Are To Killer Robots
These examples demonstrate that society is becoming more engaged with the idea of building highly sophisticated robots. Robots that can "think for themselves", do tasks humans don't want to do, and otherwise help the world a better place. This is no longer just a dream of science fiction movies. This is fast-becoming a fact of reality.
The question is, what will this reality look like? What kind of dangers will it introduce? How will it make life better? Will it make life better?
In the The Matrix, there is a situation where "autonomous" and "intelligent" robots are practically recreating the "perfect" human life for everybody. But in doing so, they are robbing people of authentic human experiences in the real-world. The robots have artificially recreated "life" so that they can selfishly benefit from unknowing humans.
In many ways, The Matrix films portray robots and technology as being an obstacle standing in the way of an authentic human existence.
Will robots of the future also rob people of the chance to live? How might robots actually steal life from humans, instead of improving it?
These ideas seem laughable now. How might a robot actually "steal" a person's chance to live authentically? Truthfully, it is a bit difficult to see how robots might actually do this. But if (and when) sophisticated robots become the norm, there are any of a number of realities that might lead to a dystopian outcome in the same sense of the one portrayed in The Matrix.
One obvious way in which robots might "steal" the experience of life is by creating a situation in which employment doesn't exist for enough people. Many predict that jobs which humans depend upon for survival will one day be filled by robots. What would happen in a world which is mostly "operated" by robots, software, and the internet? Will the "average Joe" really be able to make a living?
Again, it is very hard to look into the future and understand what it will look like. But robots could, theoretically, change circumstances so as to make living a life full of good, authentic experiences very hard or impossible; just like in The Matrix.
Although robots might make life easier, there is always a danger that it will also steal the chance people have to live an authentic life. And although films like The Matrix seem so impossible, the premise for these films (that robots will take away the experience of living life fully) seems like it could be a potential threat.
- Derek Z
Credits: Picture of robot taken from public domain film poster: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Invisible_Boy.jpg