Cool it, will you J.A.R.V.I.S.?
-Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark in “Iron Man 2”
It does not have a face, personality, or mind. Yet, Tony Stark enjoys talking to his ‘rather very intelligent butler.’ His inveterate, obsessive ‘relationship’ with his software is no different from some iPhone users’ ‘relationship’ with Siri; people not only dictate commands to Siri, but they engage in conversations with ‘her.’ The same thing can also be said for how people interact with “Ok Google,” robots, and countless other technologies and software that can respond to user inputs ‘intelligently.’ The re-imagination of Tony’s human butler, Edwin Jarvis, into a multifunctional A.I. program is not only representative of our ubiquitous usage of technology, but it also shows our strange affinity for technologies that are ‘human-like’ in features.
The re-imagination of Tony’s human butler, Edwin Jarvis, into a multifunctional A.I. program is not only representative of our ubiquitous usage of technology, but it also shows our strange affinity for technologies that are ‘human-like’ in features.
(Left) Edwin Jarvis; (Right) J.A.R.V.I.S.
People are so infatuated with technology that they unconsciously imagine them as companions who are, in some ways, a reflection of their human identity. We identify Siri and J.A.R.V.I.S. with gender nouns instead of referring them as ‘it’, as well as identify A.I.s as intelligent things even though they have CPUs instead of brains. Currently-developed robots (Asimo), and robots from sci-fi movies (C-3P0 and R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” the Terminator, Transformers, and Sonny from “I, Robot”) resemble humans anatomically.
J.A.R.V.I.S. assumes a new identity as a person named Vision in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
My human engrams sense a strange void—an empty feeling. I believe the word for the human emotion is ‘regret.’
-Paul Bettany as Vision in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Not only do people see themselves in technology, but they are unintentionally reshaping their identity by ‘becoming’ robotic. Electronica and techno songs played by singers such as Daft Punk and Owl City have been recognized as mainstream music. Instead of just treating patients with traditional medicine and surgical procedures, doctors offer prosthetic limbs as an option for amputees.
Ironically, our desire to have more social technology is accompanied with our fear of technology becoming ‘too human.’ The ‘uncanny valley’ and automatonophobia are just some of the terms people like to describe their uncomfortability with technology that closely resembles people.
But what exactly is ‘too human’ to those who are scared of technology?
This contradiction and confusion in thought can be explained by how we view ourselves through our technological achievements. Because technology is the product of our desires, it exposes the true nature of humans in its design—the humanitarian and wicked sides that we fail to totally concede.
Our technology is as human as we imagine them to be.
We are as human as we imagine ourselves to be.