We preside over a great machine. It is huge. A leviathan. It is the machine that is defining our age. Our machine doesn’t have whirring cogs or spinning wheels, nor does it belch smoke or hiss with steam. Indeed most of its moving parts are people.
Thousands of people, millions of people, use it every day, interface with it, make demands of it, nurture it, develop it and curse it. It is the machine that runs our businesses, it is the machine that runs our lives. Sometimes it goes wrong.
I used to think of our technology as a series of independent applications, hardware, networks and operating systems. I don’t now. Instead I think of it as a single set of interrelated components that operate as a single huge machine. A Gaia. A Gondwanaland. There is no real independence. All parts of the great machine rely upon the other. The flap of a butterfly’s wing can set the whole lot in a tailspin. It is a living breathing monster. Sometimes it catches a cold.
Yet we have come to expect too much of this great machine. We believe in its ability as we have created it in our own image. We expect it to understand our needs and anticipate our wants. We stretch its capabilities far beyond what we had designed. It will solve all of our problems. It will make all of our lives better. Sometimes it lets us down.
But it is not to know. It cannot be helped. It is not, as yet a sentient being. It does not feel, it does not dream, it does not create. It only follows its instructions, its algorithms and its coding. It has no personality, it does not love nor care. It does not feel your pain. It has no pain of its own.
Like Ol’ Man River – it just keeps rolling along, our great machine.
But for how much longer?