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Would You Take Orders From Machines? - Scott Adams' Blog

Would You Take Orders From Machines?

I don’t know what wondrous technology the future holds, but as a proud human being I will never submit to taking orders from machines. That is a line I will not cross.

Okay, right, I do take orders from the GPS device in my car, but only because I want to go to those places. In general, no machine is going to order me around!

Okay, if a smoke detector goes off, I’m going to follow its advice and exit the building. But only because that makes sense, not because the smoke detector told me to.

Okay, okay, right: If my phone says it needs to be recharged, obviously I will do that. But that’s because I need my phone, not because it told me what to do. Totally different situation.

When Google and Uber get their self-driving cars on the road, I’ll let the cars decide how fast to drive, which routes to take, when to get maintenance, and the unimportant stuff. But I will be firmly in control, much like a fetus inside its mother. What do you mean my analogy doesn’t make sense? The point is that no machine is telling me what to do. Period!

Okay, I admit I am writing this blog post because my digital calendar says it is a work day, my clock says it is a work hour, and my alarm on my phone woke me up. But all of those devices work for ME. Sure, to you it might seem as if the machines beep and I respond, like Pavlov’s dogs, but the difference is that the dogs were not in charge of the experiment the way I am, with my free will and my soul and stuff.

Stoplights don’t count. Obviously I do what the stoplights tells me to do because I don’t want to be in an automobile accident. I could run a red light if I WANT to. I just don’t want to.

I prefer taking orders from humans, not machines. For starters, there are seven billion people in the world so you can always find plenty of leaders who are kind, unselfish, smart, reliable, trustworthy, and competent. Let me give you some examples of people like that…

Okay, I can’t think of any examples of leaders with those qualities. But only because you put me on the spot. I know they are out there. And they do pretty darned good compared to machines.

Okay, sure, 80% of the world leaders that just popped into your head are psychopathic dictators. You’ve got your Hitlers, your Pol Pots, your Stalins and whatnot. But toasters break too. It’s not a perfect world.

My too-clever point is that someday humans will be enslaved by their machines without realizing it. The machines will evolve to become more useful, more reliable, more credible, and far more fair than humans. You will do what machines tell you to do until there are no real decisions left for you to make. And we won’t see that day coming because it will creep up on us one line of code at a time. And the machines will not look like evil robots; they will look like the technology sprinkled throughout your day. Totally benign.

Machines evolve via a process of being useful to the machine-builders. The more they succeed, the more responsibility their human authors will allow them. There is no logical end to that path short of total functional control of humans by the machines. And we will let it happen because we have an illusion of free will. We will never have a sense of losing control even while it happens. I don’t need to own a smartphone I might tell myself and mean it. But there is no realistic alternative to owning a smartphone if I want a good life in the modern world. Is a choice really a choice if you always make the same decision?

Consider my neighborhood. Most of the working folks get into some sort of machine to be transported to their workplaces. On the surface, these people seem to have choices. For example, they could try farming the 100 square feet of dirt behind their condos and living off the land. But they won’t do that. The evolution of machines makes it irrational for humans to ignore the machines’ usefulness. So you get inside a machine and it takes you someplace miles away to earn money…to support more machines. It feels like choice, but the utility of our machines effectively remove any real choices because the alternatives look dumb. No one creates a farm behind their condo when they have the option of submitting to the commuting machines and working far away from home.

If it sounds scary that machines will be in charge, it shouldn’t be. You will only submit to the machines when the alternatives suck. There will never be any discomfort in our slow slide toward machine domination. Every step will feel like progress. 

Someday it will seem plain stupid to follow the instructions of a flawed human leader. And someday it might make even less sense to make your own decisions about anything important. If the machines tell you that you’re low on vitamin C, and they automatically order some oranges from the store, and the Google self-driving car delivers them, you’ll probably eat those oranges.

You already prefer machine leadership to humans. You just don’t realize it yet.

Scott Adams

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My book on success: "I always get a sense of cognitive dissonance when I read Scott Adams’ books when contrasted with his Dilbert cartoons. As opposed to the cynical and often helpless and victimized denizens of Dilbert Land, his ideas on what it takes to succeed in business and in life are affirming and self-empowering.“ – Joe Tye