Themes and Issues in Homo Technica
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
A few days ago I was discussing the philosophy and themes behind Homo Technica with my film agent. These are my notes from that discussion, set in the context of selected quotations from the book.
“Mutual secrecy is no longer one of the conditions for life upon this globe.”
This line from the novel amends a conclusion of E M Forster (writer of A Room with a View, Howards End and A passage to India), that the privacy of our thoughts is an absolute requirement for human life. Unfortunately, it may have been true in his day (he died in 1970) but it is unlikely to remain true for much longer.
I have met a number of people who are able to access other people’s subconscious thoughts, which is of course where our innermost desires and needs are formed. Once these are known, we already know it is possible to influence them through adapting communication and messaging. Soon it will be possible to do so directly.
Homo Technica postulates that the combination of nanobiotechnology and artificial intelligence (like the implants being developed by Elon Musk’s Neuralink Inc) will allow everyone to access other’s thoughts, and to influence them. Think about this for a moment: if your thoughts are available to everyone you meet, then every aspect of your life and personality will be open to them. They will know you – good and bad – as thoroughly as you do. All aspects of our interpersonal behavior will be public, and our behavior modified. It’s like Minority Report on steroids: everyone will know your intentions as soon as you do.
“We all have access to these gifts but, if used with bad intent, they may harm more than heal”
Fortunately, the people I know who already have these abilities are healers who are morally-inclined to do good. However once open to all, they are likely to be used to harm, steal or worse. The only protection we would have is that we may know others’ intentions too. But how could we possibly keep track of everyone around us?
“The ability to manipulate the unconscious minds of others will inevitably result in two classes of human being.”
Homo Technica speculates that access to another person’s subconscious means we could control or at least influence their thoughts and desires. If this turns out to be true then, unless you believe all humans are innately good and will act in an unselfish manner in all circumstances, there will inevitably be two classes of human beings: those capable of influencing and controlling others, and those being controlled.
Of course, as the novel points out, one could view this as the mere continuation of manipulation that has been going on for centuries by the powerful over the cowed. However, this new control is direct, insidious and far-reaching. Now you will not even be able to think rebelliously without others knowing.
“No one is going to vote against gaining extra powers, especially if there are fortunes to be made.” And “There’s never any going back on evolution, especially when it’s generated unnaturally by technology rather than through natural selection.”
In the novel there is an assumption of inevitability about the development and spread of these devices. Once they are available, you will have no choice but to get one, otherwise you will become a member of the underclass – manipulated, and uncertain of the source and direction of your own thoughts. If one looks at the ubiquity of smartphones, one could argue this process has already begun. Most people I know never allow themselves to be more than a few feet from their mobile device – in effect they are already cyborgs.
“For most of us personal privacy will cease, certainty of our free will becomes impossible. Worse still, state control is fully enabled.”
This is the most scary possibility of all and is especially true now that our world is increasingly polarised into backward-looking liberal democracies and centrally-controlled authoritarian states that aspire to global pre-eminence. If you doubt these trends you should read The Fourth Revolution. The full consequences will be explored in a sequel to Homo Technica.
"For me it was a journey begun in unspeakable darkness that ended with light in my heart."
This quotation is from the journal written in 1843 that acts as a spiritual compass for the modern-day hero of the novel. It refers to its young author’s kidnapping and subsequent acceptance of his fate, after being transported into a New World. The youngster's endurance is also a metaphor for the hero’s own journey from an unhappy, dreary life.
"As well as hearing others’ present unconscious thoughts, she is now capable of hearing and seeing the past and future thoughts and experiences of others, sometimes from years ahead or behind."
I have met a number of people who were able to tell me in great detail about earlier parts of my life, presumably picking these up from my own memories. I have also met two who have been able to accurately foretell my future. At the time I was scepticaI of course, but all their predictions came true in virtually the exact order specified.
Whatever this means in terms of the true nature of time and of our reality is open to speculation. In Homo Technica the subject is covered in part when looking at the history of the suppression of women and their eventual, future release.
“The elite of this world think of us as some kind of mysterious, psychic resistance to be overcome.” And “I miss you and you are the one woman on this planet that I want to be with. Will you take me back?”
The answer of course, is Love. And love.