People, personal computers and Blade Runner – digital technology in the 80’s ?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs

Blade Runner is a 1982 film direct by Ridley Scott which has just had its sequel released this year in cinemas around the world: The Blade Runner 2049.

The Plot: “…Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, the story depicts a future in which synthetic humans known as replicants are bioengineered by the powerful Tyrell Corporation to work on off-world colonies”(Source: Wikipedia)

The Reality in the 80’s: how did people see and engage with computers in those years? What did society think about them or were afraid of in the early years personal computers? How much of the digital future could they see and interpret through the lenses of films such as Blade Runner? The film depicted a reality in a future time that is today close to us, just around the corner from, in 2019.

The video above portrays the role computers were starting to have in society during those initial years in the 80’s. It also presents us with Steve Jobs views of the future, then a very young CEO and the founder of Apple computers. Jobs was incredible in foretelling to a sceptical audience what personal computers would mean to society in a near future.

Applying Jobs philosophy in the above’s quote, let’s look back to a time where a similar discussion to what we are experiencing today was already taking place. Concerns from the general public that computers would be taking their jobs, fear of loss of privacy and data security, companies implementing new automated system to improve efficiency in operations, smart payment processes, customer services and better user experiences. Sounds just like today, doesn’t it?!

‘You can’t do the simplest things today without the use of a computer’, said the reporter back in 1981. Almost 40 years later and how far have we come to understand how much more dependant we are on machines and computers. We need their help in most activities we engage in today, from our most simple menial day-to-day activities to shopping and communication needs as well as more processing complex activities?

It is said that of our smartphones which is now performing all sort of activities on our behalf (besides calling people), they are an ‘extension of humanity’, our operational system. And if it was almost inconceivable to leave home without them a few years ago, now they are also running our homes!

A 26 years-old Steve Jobs in his genius, had already foreseen this reality where computer would amplify mankind intellectual abilities wherein the impact and effects in society would far outstrip of the petrochemical revolution. But that’s is only one side of the story…

What is interesting in this video from the eighties is the realisation that people were already afraid that these ‘new’ revolutionising machines were going to take their jobs. Like in the Blade Runner movie where ‘replicants’ (fictional bioengineered or biorobotic android virtually identical to humans but much superior in many ways) where hunted down because they were seen as a menace to humans, people in those years thought that machines would eventually replace us, not much different from the talk we are increasingly listening to today.

The report asked Steve Jobs if there was any danger of these computers taking over our lives to which he just rebuffed stating that technology is just a tool to democratise society and make the experience more individual and if it wasn’t working we could just through out of the window. He also believed that machines would allow us to focus on the things we do best and release us to engage in more creative thinking instead of mechanical thinking. It would release us from the drudgeries of life so we can could focus on conceptual and creative tasks.

 

Blade-runner-directors-cut-poster-large-msg-119325148375Author David Burnham on the other hand, exposes the threat of invasion of privacy and how computer could then be used to manipulate us. This argument were contrasted by the news anchor arguing that computers, like guns, do not harm people, people do that to people. It would be then a matter of who is behind the computer or the executive order from above to engage in activities such as unsolicited data collection, mass surveillance etc… Moreover our society doesn’t seem to be alerted enough to fully understand how to use the web in a safe way, nor most members of the general public can clearly comprehend about the dangerous of loss of privacy, or the power of manipulation behind the information disseminated via social sites including how it is organised and categorised by search engines?

Burnham arguments were that the general public is not sufficiently aware to what was happening and how it was been sold on to them. That’s is something way too important to be taken lightly or dismissed. The debate on machines taking over humanity is an old one, the question is about how far have we come to really understand the true impact they will have in shaping our future.

We might still be far from the reality shown in the initial Blade Runner movie but certainly computers and technology has evolved to permeate all aspects of our lives and they are gradually replacing some of the work we do…

Thoughts???

video credit to robatsea2009 channel

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