Thursday, November 27, 2008

Contemplations of the Machine 2

I'm teaching my son to use the computer.  For a long time, he had trouble getting the idea that the monitor wasn't the computer.  He'd turn on the monitor and then, after a couple of minutes of no picture, would turn to me and complain that it wasn't working.  So I'd find myself running through, again, the routine for turning on the computer: first, the tower; then the monitor; then the speakers.

Of course, I know that he could do those things in the exact reverse order and it would still work, but he doesn't and telling him so would only confuse him.  My way, the computer is on and working at step one.  If he did it the other way around, it wouldn't be working until step three.

We have a similar situation with the Internet.  He still doesn't "get" that the games he plays at the Lego website or at CBeebies aren't "on" the computer but accessed by his computer from a computer that may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  He just knows that he double-clicks of the Google Chrome link, chooses his Favourites and his games are right there.  It looks like the games are "on" the computer, so that's how he sees it.  Just like it looks like all this stuff is "on" the monitor, rather than that rather dull-looking box under the desk.

In the last Contemplation, I explained how I imagined that human pre-Imperial technology required AIs to operate it.  In this example, I am the AI and my son is the insufficiently-advanced human.  Remove me from the equation (please don't!) and my son would still be able to play his favourite games but learning to use the PC's full capacity without my guidance would be impossible.  OK, the metaphor falls down somewhat because there are other adults around, and books and school lessons and suchlike.  But the AIs are all of these things.  So the Imperial Adeptus Mechanicus is like a child with a huge, powerful tool and no idea how to use it.

I should add that there's a second element to the metaphor, because one of the things I do when teaching my son to use the PC is to explain to him what not to do.

"Don't use the Internet Explorer shortcut, son," I say.  "We don't use that any more."

"Don't do searches without Mummy or Daddy being there," I tell him.  "There's some scary stuff out there."

Of course, he doesn't need to hear the detail about how Daddy only uses IE to access his hotmail account (that doesn't work on Google Chrome) or to find out about the "grown up" side of the Web.  He just needs to know that the PC can do dangerous things if you don't know how to use it.

So the Adeptus Mechanicus, lacking that parental guidance, is left simply with the residual knowledge that using the technology wrongly could potentially have terrible consequences, even if they're not sure what those consequences might be.  Hence: ritual.

Rituals (and traditions) are what protects them from these harmful consequences.  "We do it this way, because this is the way that we know is safe" quickly becomes "We do it this way because that's how we've always done it", which itself becomes "If you don't do it this way, you are a dangerous heretek and will be destroyed and your remains turned into a lobotomized servitor drone".

But if all this has given you the impression that I think the Adeptus Mechanicus is a bunch of retarded children, let me correct that idea.  Remember what I said in the last bit?  The technology they're handling is phenomenally complex: some complex, in fact, that they need AIs that are forbidden by ancient decree to use it safely outside the context of ritual.  Perhaps we should go back to my car.

I can take my car apart and probably put it back together.  From that process I will learn a great deal about how the car works, but not everything.  With time, experiment and much effort, I will probably, eventually, understand about 90% of how the car works, but some bits of it will simply be beyond me.  And that's how the Adeptus Mechanicus operates.  They dissect and examine and study their technology to a sub-atomic level, learning about it and identifying its many layers of redundancy.  From that, they build up a highly-accurate model and idea about how it works and also how to build and maintain machines and other items based upon the original "standard" item.  But although they may be able to replicate it to a degree, there may still be elements of the most advanced technology that the human mind simply can't grasp unaided.

This leads us to understand their obsession with bionics and augmentation, too.

They yearn to become more like the Machine, not merely out of some slavish obsession with metal but because their secret doctrines teach that the Machine possesses the capacity to understand things beyond the reach of the human.  Hence, something like the Rite of Pure Thought, in which areas of the brain usually processing instinct and emotion are "cleared" and replaced with additional processing capacity.  The brain begins to approach the level of the AI, giving the subject of the Rite the capacity to grasp concepts that previously would have been beyond him (or her).


Post a Comment

<< Home