March 26, 2016

Our own version of Tay

I hate the tech-heavy narcissism of the Internet.

Yes, Shakespeare mentioned the theatre in his plays, but none of his protagonists were full-time stage actors.  Montaigne acknowledged what he was doing, but he didn’t go on  and on about the craft of writing essays.  Did Caxton repeatedly publish books about publishing?  No.  Not even film is this self-reflective of a medium.

In many cases, the medium has become the message, but not in the way that Marshall McLuhan meant. It’s not just that the Internet and social media have influenced the way we talk, they have become almost all that some people talk about.  The medium is narcissistic.

What’s new in tech? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a byte. If you need any dancers for your after tech party, fine, I’ll consider it, but don’t talk to me about computers and networks all night.

That said, I did write a science fiction screenplay with a version of that Tay character. Yes, this was years before I heard of the movie “Her” or “Ex Machina” or the many other films celebrating  man’s love affair with technology.

It’s funny, every time I see one of these, I see similarities to the script I wrote ten years ago. Then, I make a mental list of everyone I sent the script to, and the little paranoid part of me keeps wondering if someone stole some of the ideas. Then, I think back to old movies like Metropolis, Bride of Frankenstein and Weird Science, and realise that a female artificial life form is far from a new idea.

But, anyway, the name of my script was “Artificial Stupidity.” It was about artificial intelligence picking up the stupid side of human behaviour. In many ways, it’s about Tay.

It’s also, however, about the Titanic, or Chernobyl, or the future of the “self-driven automobile”, our own foolish reliance on technology. It seems that every generation thinks they are on the verge of a major breakthrough, a flawless system, something that will change the world. World War I was “the war to end all wars” and so was every major war back to Roman times.

I’m not saying that people are overly optimistic. I’m saying that you should fasten your seat-belt and keep your eyes on the road, and look both ways before you cross the street, and know where the fire exits are.  Have enough lifeboats on the Titanic, just in case it gets torpedoed or something.


Being too optimistic can turn you into a hopeless pessimist.  When things don’t work out as miraculously as you planned, when you discover that your fantasies were impossible, you begin to doubt reality.

Go the middle way. Understand that we are still a very primitive species, that our technology is far from perfect, and that we still have much left to discover.

…And, if you’re a scientist, this is a good thing…

The minute that a computer can do your job, or that technology becomes perfect, all the STEM people will lose their jobs. We’ll still appreciate ballet, bodybuilding and sports, but science is not a spectator sport, so you’ll be the first to be replaced.

But, until then, try to be a bit more rounded. Realise that there’s more to life than just the internet superhighway. Sure, the internet acts as a bridge between people, but people who build brick-and-mortar bridges talk about more things than just the bridge industry and how much traffic goes over that bridge.

My own version of Tay wasn’t all about technology, or “women in tech” or tech stocks. It was about the humans around the robots, the individuals, the dynamics of relationships that exist before the computer is turned on and after the computer is out of their sight. And in that way, it’s different from the other films, because those other guys talk about different people.

I don’t like films about filmmakers, and plays about actors also kind of annoy me. We don’t play games about game design. So, why does all this content on the internet have to be about the internet?