On The Relationship Between Humans and Technology

By Clayton d’Arnault


If you haven’t heard, Mr. Robot, a USA Network original series, is the newest addition to the family of television shows you should be watching. It’s a gripping psychological, cyber-nerd thriller-drama that’s received very positive reviews since the debut of the pilot episode at the South by Southwest Film Festival this year.

Quick synopsis — Elliot (played by Rami Malek), a cyber security engineer with social anxiety and a major drug problem, ends up working with an underground hacker collective to bring down corporate America.

But, it’s actually less about technology and hacking than it sounds. It’s more than just a cyber-thriller. Among many things, it’s a comparison of humans and technology — of the creator and the created. It’s an assertion that we created computer systems in our own image.

Elliot and fsociety

Throughout the show, Elliot draws parallels and observational hypotheticals between digital and human. For instance, the entirety of episode 3 (“d3bug.mkv”) is a play on human imperfections. Elliot compares each character’s own personal faults to software bugs:

“Most coders think debugging software is about fixing a mistake, but that’s bullshit. Debugging is actually all about finding the bug, about understanding why the bug was there to begin with, about knowing it’s existence was no accident…a bug is never just a mistake, it represents something bigger — an error of thinking, that makes you who you are.”

And episode 4 (“3xpl0its.wmv”) is all about how we can exploit those bugs in humans:

“Nothing is actually impenetrable…if you can hack the right person, all of a sudden you have a piece of powerful malware. People always make the best exploits. I’ve never found it hard to hack most people. If you listen to them, watch them, their vulnerabilities are like a neon sign screwed into their head.”

Everyone has their vulnerabilities, bugs, and exploits. Just like computer systems, no person is impenetrable. With the right manipulation, deceit and cunning, there’s always a way in. We all have personal security flaws — backdoors that allow malicious intentions to slip past our security protocols, messing us up from the inside out. Which is why social engineering, aka “the art of hacking people,” exists. There’s even a competition for it.

I mean, think about it. Our brains work similar to a computer. Strip the complications of emotion, morality, and cognitive learning, the basic functions are the same. We take in information and derive conclusions based on what we know. We use our own human algorithms to calculate outcomes, where as a computer uses mathematical means to determine an outcome. So couldn’t you consider us organic machines?

What if social media existed outside of the digital realm?

There are other comparisons similar to these that are thrown about throughout the show — These parallels that Elliot draws throughout the show also begs the question, what would it be like if the digital world was part of the physical? Something that’s becoming more possible as we continue to innovate. We’re always looking for new ways to integrate the digital with the physical. And why shouldn’t we be?

To be ethereal would be a hell of an experience. Don’t you think?

With the increasing amount of technological advancements in the world, our brains are practically taken over by machines on a daily basis. Think singularity. But not a robotic apocalypse, more like robotic integration. Eventually, we’ll become the machines. Technology is already so finely meshed with our society that we behave and interact with each other in a significantly different manner than we did a decade ago. It’s unavoidable.

Mr. Robot is pointing out a unique perspective on the relationship between human and technology. Partially the reason that I’m currently captivated by this series.

What do you think? Where do you think we’ll be in the near future? Comment below, I’d like to know your personal persective on the relationship between human and tech.

If you like what you read, please recommend and share it with others by using the ❤ button below. Clayton writes Letters from an Internet Traveler, the newsletter that delivers intriguing, thought-provoking Internet tidbits and obscurities to your inbox. Find out more about Clayton and his writing at claytonwrites.com.