The computer has evolved significantly over the last 40 years. From humble beginnings as a clunky grey box that sat on the desk in a room to slim pocket-sized phones that we can carry around with us where ever we go. It feels almost foreign in a way to think of the days before we were able to access information from around the world with the touch of a finger. But we are not done yet, and I believe there will be a day where we do away with the need for screens or even virtual reality goggles. What I am talking about, is, of course, medical implantations that will allow us to access information with our own thoughts. Implants that make our minds and bodies the computer and controller. There have already been trials with medical implants with Eduardo Kac becoming the first human to implant himself with a non-medical device in the performance artwork titled “Time Capsule” (Michael, 2017) in 1997. But I will explore what we have already achieved with these technologies in another blog.
Right now, I want to explore how we have investigated these technologies in the world of fiction. How have we theorized this sort of technological advances will change our world and what ethical issues have they unearthed. I have picked an episode of Black Mirror episode 3, ‘Entire History of you’, the movies Ghost in the Shell and Gamer, and a short film I found on YouTube called Nano, by DUST. All have touched on the concept of medical implantations and the level of reliance we will have on technology.
Entire History of you is about a world people are implanted with a microchip that records their every movement known as “the grain”. In this world, people can go over specific events that have occurred in their day/life in order to simply remind themselves of what happened, or, in the case of this story, even for the purpose of entertainment. This ability to go back over events in their lives is used at security checkpoints to make sure someone has not done anything illegal, or, in job interviews to find out what sort of person they are. In this reality, nothing is sacred, and this ultimately becomes the undoing of the main protagonist when he discovers his wife’s infidelity while going through her memories and that of her lovers. This results in a complete deterioration of his mental state and eventually, self-mutilation when he tries to remove the implant himself so he can erase these painful memories. This brings up a very important ethical dilemma, a person’s right to privacy. In this existence even the most intimate of interactions is accessible by anyone should they demand it.
Gamer and Nano consider another side to medical implants which attach to our very DNA/brain tissue. These implants can be remotely controlled by other people for entertainment, as is the case in Gamer where real people replace digital avatars. Or in the world within Nano, people can download apps that allow them to change the way they physically interact with each other and even change their appearance. In both realities, a person’s body can be completely incapacitated by any outside entity. In Gamer, a human avatar loses all control of their bodies while they’re “in the game”, unable to prevent harm to themselves they’re completely at the mercy of the one controlling them which can potentially lead to their death. In Nano, the government has made these implants mandatory and authorities can paralyze a suspect who tries to escape them. In both instances, the autonomy of an individual is almost non-existent as even hackers can take control of a person should they desire it. Both scenarios show a very scary side to this type of technological advancement. While Nano initially totes these implants as being the perfect way to eliminate crime, it shows just how easily this technology can be abused. In Gamer, it is seen as the next level of entertainment, while also showing just how detached people become even when the avatar they control is a living, breathing person.
Finally, Ghost in the shell looks at how we completely remove our need for bodies and eventually become nothing but data that can be uploaded into a “shell” or simply freely moving through the internet. This new advancement throws into question what it then means to be human. If we are nothing but memories stored online, are we really living beings anymore? What happens if those memories become corrupted or even are altered in some way? This scenario throws up so many questions and really there isn’t an easy way to answer this when we have not really reached this point yet.
Every setting shows a different dystopian future where our reliance on technology is so ingrained that we completely give up control of our minds and bodies. It is not hard to envision a world like this when you just need to scroll through Facebook or Instagram for a few minutes to see how people are documenting every part of their lives already online, and how it is very easy to go back through their history to see what they were posting years before. People are already more than willing to tell a world of complete strangers everything from what they have had to eat, where they are, and who they’re with so it not a huge leap to consider a reality where we’re our lives are not just being documented every second through implants, but used as a way to control and monitor our every move.
I have only scraped the surface with each of these movies and the ethical issues which they have raised in each prediction of technological development. I intend to dive even deeper with each blog, looking at current medical advances, and look at what academics have theorized. I would also very much enjoy hearing from others on what they predict could happen in our future, and even suggestions for movies, TV shows, podcasts, or books that I should read that might answer some of the questions that have been raised so far.
Michael, K 2017, ‘Go ?Get Chipped?: A Brief Overview of Non-Medical Implants between 1997-2013 (Part 1)’, IEEE Technology & Society Magazine, vol. 36, no. 3, p. 6, viewed 21 April 2019, <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=125207018&site=eds-live>.
If you’re interested in seeing more short stories that consider our future and these types of technologies, I recommend these short films, Memoir, and Untogethered which are also on the Youtube channel DUST.