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‘Oblivion,’ Tech and the Question of Humanity

person holding black smartphone taking a picture of brown house at daytime

Even with its predictable plot, ridiculous need to stick to tired clichés, and Tom Cruise, “Oblivion” gives viewers cause to wonder what makes us human. Its answer is “our memories.”

As clone whose memory was wiped five years ago, Cruise’s character Jack is bound to a tower where he lives safely and ventures out to patrol the land, kill Scavs if he has to, and fix drones. However, since Jack is cloned from the best of humanity, he starts to wonder about his existence and the dreams he has about a woman he doesn’t know. When he meets her and meets himself with a different number, he realizes who he is and who he isn’t. She doesn’t mind. She’s his wife and says that it’s the memories that make a person who he or she is.

If memories are what make us who we are, humanity might be in trouble. Smart phones and the Internet are eroding are ability to remember things. There’s no reason to remember facts when they can be found easily with a quick search, but when you don’t practice using your memory, you begin to lose the ability to remember. This is seen in the “photo taking impairment effect.” Because we take a photo of it, our brain doesn’t have to remember it. While this hypothesis is still being tested and debated, the question is:

If we are our memories, who are we when we don’t remember anything, and who will be as a society when we forget our past? What happens to humanity when the phones have our memories? Perhaps, the movie has told us more than we realize… “Oblivion.”

For further consideration:

https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2017/10/12/smartphones-brain-memory

https://www.thecut.com/2017/08/how-taking-photos-affects-your-memory.html

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10507146/Taking-photographs-ruins-the-memory-research-finds.html

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Episode 7 ‘The Twilight Zone’ The Lonely

In the not-too-distant future, humanity is going to have to decide what it should do with artificial intelligence. As much as human beings have a fear of playing God, there’s going to be a time when artificial intelligence is indistinguishable from human intelligence. At that point, it will need to be called intelligence or people will face the problems associated with slavery, its consequences and what it means in relationship to being human.

Unfortunately, people aren’t yet equipped to understand when the change will take place. What separates the artificial from the organic? The programmed from the born? Especially when so many people are programmed through their culture, their religion, and their media choices.

In “The Lonely,” the captain of the rescue ship, who also happened to bring the robot in the ship has no moral dilemma. He knows who is real and who is not, and he makes his decision accordingly. But for the prisoner, the robot was a living being with emotions who saved his humanity and kept him from isolation-related madness (something addressed in “Where Is Everybody?” and “Time Enough at Last” and, to a lesser extent “Sixteen Millimeter Shrine”).

What happens when a machine saves a man from loneliness and madness? What happens when our phones and computers do the same?