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It’s the End of the World as We Know It…

One of the reasons I am drawn to science fiction is that it allows the writer to delve into issues that are difficult to explore in a traditional novel.

For example technology, especially futuristic technology naturally arises in the telling of science fiction. Varik’s storyline in Machination takes place a thousand years in the future, while Drew’s world is an agrarian society. The juxtaposition between these worlds allows the reader to draw his own conclusions about the contrast between humanization and technology. Being a bit of a rebel, Varik tends to be anti-technology and yet he is an astrophysicist. He forsakes a lot of the technology that is available in order to live a simple life. However, his simple life is a lonely one.

As far as my personal philosophy, I have a simple little analogy from my experience to throw into the mix. During my child psychiatric residency at the University of Virginia, we had a telemedicine rotation. Over a closed circuit channel, we were able to perform medication management with children and their families from rural areas of Virginia that had no access to child psychiatry. I performed the rotation and I do believe it was helpful to the families, as much as prescribing a medication for a multifactorial problem can be.

However, there was something missing in the interaction with the child and their families and it wasn’t just the technology. All the questions were asked and answered and yet something was missing. I guess I have a general philosophy that is in its infancy at this point. I will try to explain it, but bear with me as it may or may not come across as intended.

Let’s take the example of when one is walking down the street and just barely makes eye contact with a person you find attractive. I think there are hundreds if not thousands of neuronal circuits that fire that aren’t consciously registered, such as little nuances in facial expression, subtle eye movements and eyebrow raises that communicate something. Possibly that I find you attractive or I’d like to meet you for coffee or that I would love to get to know but can’t. Words will truly let me down in trying to describe these hundreds of subtle interactions, but it is kind of an unconscious neuronal texting subtly reciprocated by the other in real-time. In each passerby, these hundreds of interaction are pruned to a gestalt in the blink of an eye, so to speak. But what is actually registered consciously is simple- hey he or she is pretty.

Now if you buy my theory and generalize it to a chance meeting with someone you just met at a party that you have five minutes to talk with, there is so much more going on behind the scenes with neuronal texting; so many subtle gestures and interactions that are testing whether or not I can trust this person or am I a good fit with this person. In this sense, things are a little less random than we think. We carefully select the people we know and hang out with and even marry. As one gets to know the other person the texting is less omnipresent but still very important.

Back to my original assertion, technology can advance and make interactions more immediate from a distance (i.e., e-mail, cellphone texting, twitter, Skype) but neuronal texting remains absent. That is why e-mails and texts are so easy to misinterpret. There is no context of these interactions and therefore easily misunderstood. Even in video conferencing something is missing.

The only way that technology will change the significance of this fundamental human interaction is when artificial intelligence is created. This will be a game changer, but if human interactions are just made more immediate by technology (with a filter), something will always be lost in translation. So in summary humanization wins in the end with a caveat.

And as an aside, we better be careful with artificial intelligence. I don’t mean to scaremonger, but I think sometimes people feel a little invincible, that is until the fit has already hit the shan. Nevertheless, I think A.I. is light years away, so for now leave it to the science fiction writers to do the conjecturing about how it will all play out.

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