It’s hard to believe that the trilogy of “Matrix” movies came out over ten years ago. I still think of them often and fondly, and just recently understood something new about them, which I would like to share with you.
This involves what Ray Kurzweil has termed “The Singularity,” the point at which computers become more intelligent than humans and, because of their superior intelligence, start running the world on their own terms, without regard for our wishes. Although I don’t believe “the Singularity” is ever expressly mentioned in The Matrix movies, it is obviously a “post-Singularity” scenario. As you may recall, in their attempt to prevent the computers from taking over, humans geoengineered the planet into being perpetually cloud-covered, in an attempt to cut the computers off from solar power. The computers triumphed anyway, and use the electricity generated by living human bodies as their energy source, keeping almost all the humans in a kind of suspended animation dream-state. Everybody thinks they are interacting with each other in a “real world,” but they are actually participating in a well-constructed virtual reality.
Someplace along the way, somebody created an animated “prequel” to The Matrix, showing how the computers hunted us humans down, subdued us, and thrust us into pods so we could provide them with energy, not unlike what wasps do to spiders. But I think it might not take a war. I think a lot of people would actually volunteer to be empodded.
I think a lot of people could be seduced, or induced by marketing, into volunteering for life in a pod. It could be a very “natural” transition, in a kind of very un-natural way. Look at how much time we (and I do mean we!) are spending in front of computer screens, how so many of us have become addicted, as it were, to “hand-held devices,” and how one of the main uses of these is participation in virtual reality action games. Look at how Google is introducing “Google Glasses,” and the various x-rated “touch simulators” that have become available to create some kind of physical intimacy in long-distance relationships–and augment the effects of internet porn. Note that there are internet “alternate realities” in which people interact through “avatars” that embody fanciful or idealized versions of themselves, including magical aspects and changes of sex or even species. Then add in how, when Ray Kurzweil talks about “The Singularity,” one of the things he offers is that, by computerizing ourselves, a digitized version of our personality, and perhaps even our consciousness, could outlive our bodies. As we approach the point of “The Singularity,” it looks like many people are cocooning themselves voluntarily. If otherwise unemployed people can “pay the rent” by letting a machine tap into their electricity, spending 100% of one’s time in virtual reality could become wildly popular, and the computers might not even need a war to subdue us.
But if there are hostilities, the weapons are already on the market. When the U.S. started using drones as a risk-free way to kill opponents of our hegemony, the first thing that crossed my mind was to wonder which country would be next to follow our precedent, and how long it would be until drones were used by a foreign power against Americans. Suppose the Chinese took out His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and other Tibetans, on the grounds that they were terrorists? Suppose they started using drones to take out American advocates for Tibetan freedom as “terrorist supporters? “Richard Gere vaporized in Chinese drone strike!” We’ve set the precedent!
But recently, something even more sinister has occurred to me. Given the existence of rapidly evolving visual recognition software, how long will it be until somebody, or some computer, decides/realizes that you don’t need a human sitting at a monitor to operate a drone, because a computer can do it? Robots, as many factory operators are discovering, are cheaper to hire than people. They never goof off or call in sick and they don’t need Social Security or medical coverage.
Fourteen years ago, the Matrix seemed like fairly futuristic science fiction. Now, several of its major components are on stage. There’s a saying about playwriting that, if you put a gun on the mantle in act one, you had better make sure that somebody uses it in act three. The guns of “The Matrix Scenario” are on the mantle. The only question at this point is whether the electricity will stay on long enough for the play to get to act three.
music: Greg Brown, America Will Eat You”
Afro-Celt Sound System w/Peter Gabriel “When You’re Falling“