Bruce Bisset: Let's not lose our love of nature

By Bruce Bisset

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'I'll bet the more intimate we become with our creations, the less hand-shaking there'll be'. Photo / Thinkstock
'I'll bet the more intimate we become with our creations, the less hand-shaking there'll be'. Photo / Thinkstock

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the technological age is to prevent ourselves becoming so disconnected from the natural world - and from our fellows - that we become little more than intelligent machinery, removed from and therefore uncaring of the consequences of our actions.

If we are subservient to or controlled by the devices we eagerly loose on ourselves, the future may become a kaleidoscopic space where virtual and real intertwine, with our physical bodies merely conduits on the information highway.

Three articles juxtaposed in this paper prompted these thoughts.

The first about a US rancher jailed in a cattle-rustling case thanks to evidence collected by an unmanned drone aircraft. Yep, they don't only use them to bomb suspected terrorists and unsuspecting innocents in far-flung locales, but for surveillance at home, too.

Next, about a secret European police programme developing a remote stopping device that can switch off a car's ignition, allowing vehicles to be halted at will.

And the third quoting German Chancellor Angela Merkel objecting to US NSA spying programmes "in which the end justifies all means" as a violation of trust. This last hugely ironic, given Hitler's rationale was exactly that, 70 years ago.

Then I read an article about "grinders": people who deliberately insert microchips under their skin to control scanning devices with a wave of their hand, allowing them to unlock doors, start engines, and make transactions without needing to fish the right card from their wallets.

They can even send and receive information over mobile phones, direct to their implants.

Couple that with "genetic barcoding" - a person's unique make-up digitally imprinted somewhere on their body so as to be read by any scanning device - and where do we end up?

In a world where not just all machinery, but every person can be "stopped" at will? The ultimate techno-dictatorship, and it's much closer to being able to be implemented than we care to imagine.

I recall when Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, came out in 1985; the first in a series of books detailing the life of a child engineered to play video war-games on a galactic scale - except the "games" were real.

Then, people treated the idea of marrying "spacies" with reality as fantasy; now, such sophisticated techniques are used, daily, to kill by remote on behalf of a rapidly-growing list of countries.

We're breeding "warriors" who never have to make eye contact with their enemy, never have to experience the trembling horror of combat, have no chance to take away the survivor's abhorrence of war.

In short, robot killers with no checks on their moral compass.

At the same time, we're making - by choice now, but perhaps soon by legal force - a type of cyborg in our general population; people who interface with machines and data as easily as shaking hands. Though I'll bet the more intimate we become with our creations, the less hand-shaking there'll be.

And we're also collecting - overtly and covertly - a huge amount of detail on the lives of every person who owns any piece of interactive technology. So we're being labelled and stamped virtually already; the actual is only a social shift away. Technology may be a boon that expands our consciousness, but it's also a type of prison.

The space we occupy within it may appear infinite, but in fact is constrained and remote.

So the challenge is to maintain perspective and find ways to reconnect with the real world around us, else we will lose our empathy with our neighbours and come to treat them as strangers - or enemies - instead.

That's the right of it.

Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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