5.29.2016

Robot Anxiety and Narcissistic Denial.

So this morning a tweet scrolled across my twitter feed this morning and reminded me that this robot anxiety is (as always) alive and well.  "Will robots replace museum workers?"

Yes.

Kind of?

To me this question sounds like a differently worded:  "Will gloves replace hands?"

I went ahead and did a quick search to find out how imminent the threat of total replacement was and the above (partial list) filled my screen.  Bad news.  Robots are definitely probably replacing us.  At least according to the twitter chatter.

Since robots are always and only extensions of us, it's a delightful narcissistic delusion to project our anxieties upon the reflection in the river.  That guy!  He's always smiling at me at the most awkward moments!  And then he scowls just when I start to feel awkward about his smile!  And he seems so self absorbed!

Of course the difference is that "museum workers" can be parsed into individual people who work in a museum.  One worker and then another and then another.

And in this way robots are not necessarily extensions of these individual workers, they are extensions of our more general and collective longings and ambitions.

And it does make sense to me that X museum worker may feel "replaced" by the generalized longings and ambitions that s/he does not share.  But as long as we live in a technological-progress-embracing society, we are all (unless we resist in unusually luddite ways) at least a little bit culpable for the longings that brought these robots into our lives, into our work, into our museums.

I do not know Jim nor the conversation into which he is making an intervention, and frankly, I'm never averse to MORE conversation BEFORE technological adoption.  But I think our interventions will all become more worthwhile  and generative once we can recognize the robots for what they are:

They are us -- slightly distorted by the ripples in the pond -- but us, nonetheless.

*all of this post is, of course, mostly indebted to Marshall McLuhan.

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