Film for Thought: New Movies Shine Light on Technological Dystopia, Both Real and Imagined
Over the holiday break, I had the opportunity to experience two different explorations of disconcerting realities made possible by our technological advances. They left me feeling a little wide-eyed, weary, and worried.
First, at my son’s urging, we watched Zero Days. This is the true story (dispute it if you wish, I won’t) of how two superpower nation-states created an unprecedented virus, STUXnet, to impede Iran’s nuclear program. This was a real eye-opener. The Roger Ebert review states, “ Easily the most important film anyone has released this year, it is a documentary that deserves to be seen by every sentient citizen of this country — and indeed the world.”
You can hardly come away from a documentary like this without increased concerns about not if, but when, technology will get the better of us. The chances of creating constructs that will outpace our ability to control them seem inversely proportional to our tendency to be excessively secretive while playing God with these powerful technologies.
Of course, when cyber-warfare is the game being played, secrecy seems to be an essential ingredient, but where should the line be drawn (and who gets to draw it)? In many ways, this is the same challenge we’ve faced with the nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. We must strive to define limits before we toast ourselves back to the third world.
I am very grateful that filmmakers like Alex Gibney to the heavy lifting to create a conversation like this. I have to imagine he met some major resistance in his effort to expose this work. Fortunately, the film also exposed an undercurrent of concern among many powerful players, who were willing to go out on a limb and expose these goings on (although my son wondered if that was not just a manufactured effort by some overriding powers to decide just how much to expose and share, to help control the story line and rhetoric).
The Light Side of Paranoia About our Technologically Altered Future
On a somewhat lighter, but similarly disconcerting note, I also watched several episodes of the buzzworthy Black Mirror sci-fi anthology on Netflix over the last few days. Again, I am thankful for the artists who are helping to fulfill one of the most culturally vital roles of art — raising awareness, and stimulating a necessary and vital conversation.
The Black Mirror series offers short films that explore disturbing and, for the most part, highly viable scenarios in which technology impacts lives and the work we live in. The first episode was a quite a mind blower … equal parts disturbing, disgusting, and captivating. It had a real can’t-look-away-even-though-I-really-want-to feel to it. I won’t spoil it for anyone by sharing any freaky details.
Latter episodes have examined things like what would happen if we recorded every detail of our lives and had them at ready playback (takes the “glassholes” thing to a whole new level). What is we could use the expanding capabilities of AI to create electronic constructs that emulate deceased loved ones? Where do you draw the line with something like that? When does cool become ultra creepy?
I encourage readers to explore these films and open their minds to the important conversations we need to be having as technology hacks away at the lock to Pandora’s box. Just because we can open doesn’t mean we should.