So the iPhone X has come out, and its big thing is facial-recognition software.

Meanwhile, driverless cars are slipping their way up San Francisco hills as we speak, the military (and some civilians) are flying drones over the Middle East and suburban neighborhoods, medical technology is developing nanobots to repair your bones and tissue, and there’s even a company that’s developing a really creepy android named Sophia for… fun?

Duh-duh dun duh-duh! The robots are here!

I know I wasn’t the only one existentially alarmed when the iPhone X was announced. And I’m not suggesting that in the near term the facial recognition software on being introduced and made compulsory with the iPhone X has the power to do much more than give corporations and/or governments better (and also terrifying) surveillance capabilities.

But yet there’s always been that line between convenience and everything else (privacy, socioeconomic inequality, corporate overreach) we’ve been pushing when it comes to technology of all kinds, and robots and AI are really just the next question in that conversation that at this point, we really have to start considering.

Oh my God, I can already hear you saying. She’s talking about science fiction.

Yes, I am! And that response you had comes from something I call The Robot Myth(™).

The Robot Myth(™) explores a whole host of human fears about technology and the robot, but in doing so keeps those fears safe and confined – and essentially preposterous. And in doing so, it renders the next question in the conversation about technology’s place in our lives – that is, robots and AI – equally preposterous.

The Robot Myth was originated by the likes of authors Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick in the 1950s and 60s. It wasn’t distilled into popular culture until the 1980s and 90s, which saw an explosion of films fed by our robot terror – with Terminator taking the vanguard, along with films and shows like Bladerunner, Battlestar Galactica (the original), and The Matrix.

Today, interestingly enough, we’ve got a lot of reboots of the same. Even Westworld was a 1970s movie by Michael Crichton, and is essentially a reboot of the exact same conception of man vs. machine. Or should I say, man vs. android machine.

Which to be fair, seems pretty preposterous. I mean, who would even make an android, you say with an uncomfortable laugh? (Please see previous link to super creepy android called Sophia.)

The result: we’re able to point to it as a kind of plausible deniability. We’ve distilled our existential fear of the advance of technology into our popular fiction and done such a good job of mythologizing it that we don’t even question it in our day to day – even as we joke about Google and Skynet.

Or better yet – even as we give Apple a 3D scan of our faces.

The robots aren’t in your pocket (yet), but this much is already true: we can’t outrun the robots. We’ll keep buying them. 

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