Science Fiction Has Impacted The World Of Today And Will It Shape The Future

Wall-E and Star Trek take place in futures made possible by dramatic advances in automation both stories prominently features robots and computers that has fundamentally changed how humanity lives and works, yet their interpretations of what an automated future might look like couldn’t be further apart. While star Trek envisions an advanced human race that uses automated technology to explore the universe, Wall-E imagines our descendants to be slothful people whose minds and bodies has gone soft from the lack of activity.

Wall-E and Star Trek are far from the first science fiction properties to explore the idea of automation and how it might affect humanities relationship to labour, which basically comes down to using time and effort to produce something. For instance, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator and Matrix are just a handful of stories arguing that automation will inevitably clash with labour and lead to violence and death. By contrast both Wall-E and Star Trek sees humanity surviving an automated future, these robots are not in conflict with humanity. Wall-E and Star Trek represent two extremes poles on the spectrum of opinion regarding how automation will affect humanity.

According to Wall-E, automation focusing on improving convenience and efficiency at the cost of all other values will rob us of our humanity by induced laziness promoting inactivity. According to Star Trek, deliberate carefully considered implementation of automation to augment and improve existing human capabilities will lead to economic utopia and cultural flourishing. These predictions are as far from one another as they can get yet both draws from ongoing discussions and variety of fields, engineering, robotics, psychology, anthropology and more. For instance, in Thomas B. Sheridan’s essay “Speculations on Future Relations Between Humans and Automation” argues that we can follow one of two possible paths depending on what humanity ultimately decides to emphasise as we develop automated technology (Sheridan, 1996). In Sheridan’s first future, humanity designed automated systems to maximise efficiency over any other considerations in other words machines are built in design primarily to make life easier to limit the expenditure of energy, bots, etcetera. Sheridan’s description bares a striking resemblance to life abord the Axiom, the fully automated luxury cruise featured in Wall-E. Abord the Axiom, human beings have given up control of their daily lives to robots built by the large corporation. These machines are designed to make the passengers time abord the ship as stress free as possible, as a result, people no longer have any real decisions making power. This fact is made most obvious in Captain McCrea, a figure head who is nominally in control of the ship but in reality has no understanding of how it or anything else works. McCrea craves agency as we see when over sleeping causes him to miss out on morning announcements, the one responsibility still left to him. But his effort to direct his own life and command the ship are replaced by a literal autopilot whose soul function is to keep the ships inhabitants as safe and as comfortable as possible even at the cost at violating their free will.

This is in direct contrast to Sheridan’s second possible future which is much more in common to the world that’s depicted in Star Trek. Under this scenario, humanity uses automation to selectively augment and extend its own abilities, in other word, rather then simply making current problems easier to deal with, we use automation to replace the daily grind of the higher order and ideally more interesting problems. Because of this, it opened the opportunity for humans to spend resources on space travel and artistic endeavours. A recurring example of federation technology that enhances human problem solving rather then solving the problems for them is the ships computer abord the USS enterprise. The computer on the USS enterprise is incredibly fast but not sentient or intelligent. It helps the crew members with their queries but outside of the box questions are left to be solved by the humans, automated systems are tools to aid humans not a guide designed to watch over us. In a similar way, medical technology on the show gives doctors more detailed diagnostic abilities but it’s still up to the human medical professionals to make diagnoses and prescribe treatments. Overall Star Trek contends that technology will ultimately help us do more of the things that makes us most human. 

07 July 2022
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