Computers, Narrative and Dystopia

I started playing around with narratives and narrative theory recently. After talking to a couple of my geek 2.0 friends, I found out that some of them are afraid of a very dystopian future. The future, where computers will dominate the human race, just like in The Matrix.

Credit: flyingdutchee

Credit: flyingdutchee

To support their claims, my friends list examples from sci-fi literature and their connection to scientific development. It’s quite difficult to establish the connection from an academical standpoint, but we’ll stick with anecdotal evidence for now. In case anyone is interested to turn this topic into a full study, feel free to do so. I will only encourage it.

Here is the outline from the story to unrealistic expectations.

  • Perceive the narrative
  • Changes happen in the real life
  • Uncertainty leads the mind back to the narrative
  • Assert its conclusion however bizarre
  • Unrealistic expectations and fear of technology

That doesn’t make much sense now, does it? Let’s put it into a narrative for better understanding. We will start from the premise that sci-fi literature influences technology and scientific development.

Perception

The readers perceive the narrative in the sci-fi literature. It seems believable, consistent and follows a logic of good reasons. In plain English: My friend John is sitting in his armchair, reading a book about computers dominating the humanity. Everything flows smoothly in the story, which makes it easy to be remembered.

Uncertainty

Then changes happen in the real life. The scientists create a supercomputer with a processing capacity exceeding the one of a human brain. What used to be only a part of the sci-fi narrative is now reality. That sparks John’s interest in the potential of this invention. “Maybe the sci-fi predictions are becoming reality.” He then recalls the narrative in the novel, and quickly asserts its conclusion.

Explanation

Some humans panic like there were no tomorrow. Why? John doesn’t know what happens next, but knows that these changes were described in the sci-fi narrative. By applying the logic of good reasons he assumes that narrative = reality. However irrational it may be, he may believe that the computers will subdue humanity.

All this happens on the level of heuristics, not logic. Even though we are thinking that we are thinking, we are actually taking shortcuts. What shortcuts do you make?

About the author: Honza Felt is neither cute nor funny. To compensate for these tragic flaws, he writes about marketing, analytics and communication, so more gullible people think he is smart if nothing else. Well, at least he’s honest…