REVIEW: “Welcome to the Machine” Provokes Thought About the Future of Technology

Welcome to the Machine

Running time: 86 minutes

Theme: Technology

Director: Avi Zev Weider

Availability: VHX

Price: Rent for $6.99 or buy for $14.99

Fun Fact: It was backed on Kickstarter.

In this documentary, filmmaker Avi Zev Weider explores the debate of the impact that rapid expansion of technology has and will have. Filmed in the United States in 2012, the movie follows a few storylines of people with a close relationship to technology: a blind man experimenting with new sight technology, army officers in the Unmanned Aviation Vehicle (“drone”) department and Weider himself, whose children were born prematurely and were forced to rely on life support machines for survival.

Intertwined with these stories is the discussion over the fundamental issue of the role of technology for humans as a species. The extreme views of Ted Kaczynski, also known as “The Unabomber,” are presented throughout the movie as snippets from his Manifesto; they serve as a platform of thought-provoking ideas that are directly and indirectly touched upon by the experts interviewed. This list includes a professor of technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a philosophy professor from the University of Michigan (who directly corresponds with Kaczynski through letters), the founding editor of Wired Magazine and a professor of computer science at Yale who was a victim of one of Kaczynski’s mail bombs.

Among the experts interviewed is renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil, known for his predictions, most notably that of technological singularity – the point where artificial intelligence exceeds human capacity and control – occurring by 2045. Kurzweil supports such rapid progress and a future in which we’re able to live past biological constraints. His views are presented in stark contrast to Kaczynski’s.

Kaczynski advocated for a society modeled after the hunter/gatherer days – claiming the Industrial Revolution sparked the creation of a system that fundamentally does not prioritize the best interests of the people. Weider’s mail correspondence with him (shown in the film) is an insightful addition to the discussion.

The film succeeds in presenting both sides of the issue without an extreme bias toward one direction. It causes the viewer to re-examine his or her own ideas, or establish some in the first place. It approaches the topic from multiple angles, including philosophical, social and religious. Ultimately, it provokes some questions that aren’t immediately easy to answer. Is technology neutral as a means to an end? If not, are potential negative consequences of technology justified by the positive effects of things like being able to maximize human potential and expression? Are we blindly following technologists who are fueling an “engine of novelty,” but may not be in control of the vehicle? What’s the appropriate level of technology that we and the planet can tolerate?

These questions might be a little scary to consider, but are without a doubt important ones to address going forward. The film is a good introduction to anyone new to the debate, but doesn’t dive too deep into any particular area. If the topic interests you, expect to do some research for more information after [...]

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