Do You Trust This Computer?

Technology has changed exponentially in just the past decade. Twenty years ago I still had a landline and managed my life on my little Palm handheld. I was tied to my work desk thanks to my handy pager. My gigabyte hard drive was a game changer.

Quite frankly, this back-in-my-day rant is nothing you haven’t heard before. But the facts are true, the pace of technological advancement today moves at a blinding pace. It’s getting to a point where it’s impossible to keep up. That said, who’s minding the store? Who’s keeping an eye on these changes? Who watching that technology is used for the good of mankind and not for its destruction?

It’s hard not to write this without coming off as paranoid. Chris Paine’s documentary Do You Trust This Computer is a well-produced introduction to computer paranoia. By the end, you’ll swear Cyberdyne is just days from creating the much-needed Terminator robotics.

The documentary starts with filmmaker Jonathan Nolan warning that Hollywood has inoculated us against the potential threat posed by computers and we’re about to be blindsided by it. But then again, maybe the creator of Person of Interest is just overstating the point and intentionally scaring us to promote some sci-fi thriller he or his brother are putting together. Right?!?

“…warning that Hollywood has inoculated us against the potential threat posed by computers and we’re about to be blindsided by it.”

The film basically talks to experts, flashes really cool graphic art, and documents areas in which technology could potentially undermine human society. First, technology is not all bad. In medicine, a robot is able to perform hysterectomies with stunning accuracy. The managing surgeon comments that he performed maybe one actual hysterectomy each year and is afraid he might forget one day.

Computers study thousands of X-rays in order to diagnose tumors instantly. They’re also programmed decipher genetics code warning us of potential health problems. Soon, we’ll no longer rely on imperfect human diagnosis. Is that good?

Artificial Intelligence has already seeped its way into our lives. Just enter a few characters in the Google search fields and see what comes up. That’s chump change compared to Google’s Deep Mind, which is in the forefront of computer “superintelligence.” Computers thinking for themselves?

“Everyone and everything comes off as credible, and the philosophy comes off as plausible.”

The fear escalates. With Uber testing driverless cars, are we that far off from Autonomous Weapons Systems? Robots are fighting the enemy in an IRL version of Starcraft. Sure Google engineers refuse to work with the military on such technology, but if the U.S. doesn’t create it first, someone else will, and the Terminators are just around the corner.

How about privacy? Ted Cruz used the services of Cambridge Analytica to push his way to second place in the 2016 Republican Presidential primary. He targeted you specifically hitting on your hot button issue (e.g. Gun Control) and crafted a message specific to you. How does he know so much about you? The data came from directly from you, your social media posts and Lord, knows what else.

Do You Trust This Computer is informative at the least. Everyone and everything comes off as credible, and the philosophy comes off as plausible. It effectively plants the seeds of paranoia. Is the government already weaponizing technology or is it the deep state. And who will the guardians of humanity be? Or is the filmmaker just trying to scare us with sci-fi malarkey? Was it brilliant on their part to warn us at the beginning that we’re going to be skeptical and succumb to intellectual complacency, which is what the machines what us to do? It feels like director Paine is simply saying, “Here are the facts and you’ve been warned.”

Do You Trust This Computer (2018) Directed by Chris Paine. Featuring James Barrat, David Ferrucci, Sean Gourley, Eric Horvitz, Andrew Ng, Jonathan Nolan, Tim Urban, Shivon Zilis.

8 out of 10 stars

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