Saturday, 3 March 2007

Mr Spock where are you?

The degree of information we can get today is, I believe, endangering the thrill of adventure. Despite living now in Sheffield, I consider myself as a passionate surfer (not on the web but the real stuff which involves a surfboard, sometimes nice blue turquoise waves but not systematically long blond hair) and I have to admit that I enjoy today technology which allows me to keep in touch with my home beach in France. It is indeed very easy to check everyday the conditions of my favourite surfing spot through webcams and other weather forecast analysis, accessible from the internet. Obviously I pray for bad conditions to happen so I don’t miss anything and can spend a peaceful day at work but unfortunately, most of the time I pay a look on the internet, conditions are great and I feel then that the time is right to share with my colleagues my delight of being stuck in sunny and warm Sheffield instead of spending time on a gold sand beach in the South West of France! What is worse is that I also just discovered a great video of my surf spot on youtube to make me suffer even more!

Being back to my point, I have always considered surfing as my domain of adventure, going to different places in the world, analysing conditions, moving further to the original spot to find a better environment, meeting people, etc. which I consider are the necessary preliminaries to a good surf momentum. But with the information we can gather now from the today technologies, it is easy to determine, days in advance, where the surf will be best, the optimum time of the tide, etc. which create a crowded surfing population gathered in the same place fighting each other for a wave and who have lost this adventure spirit and converted surf to any other banal activity. This model is easily adaptable to any other adventure type activity slowly dying because of too much accessible information, allowing to plan with extreme details leaving few to the unexpected which is the source of adventure.
We are now too dependent of the sophisticated tools we are developing to explore remote places, collecting various data, analysing data collected without physically travelling and make our own perception of the environment leaving that to the machine, forgetting to use our five senses (some people believe we have more than five senses but I will not go to this route for this time).

For these reasons, I consider the exploration adventure on Earth as over apart maybe for the abyss exploration but it would be more an invitation to deepen our knowledge of our environment rather than a human adventure unless to our surprise we encounter some forms of developed intelligence living at the bottom of our oceans (and I am not talking about the kraken) who wisely avoided to communicate with us until now.

My worry is that the future of exploration, space exploration, will lie predominantly in the machine perception of our external environment. I really liked the concept of Gene Roddeberry’s Star Trek Enterprise with humans mixed with other species such as Mr Spock and the representation of what should be the human adventure, meeting new life forms from a different environment for a voyage to undiscovered territories where the human place was preponderant and not the information system hardwares used as a safe device prior exploration which in reality spoil the concept of exploration adventure. So what is the future of exploration now, who will be the new Christopher Columbus, the new Doctor Livingstone, will Captain Kirk be replaced by Data? I would be really disappointed if the encounter of a new form of intelligent life was established through a satellite named XX37PT or robot R2D2 junior rather than a human person; if we meet this new intelligent form, what kind of interaction can we propose with a machine as interlocutor and not a proper person with feelings and great capacity of adaptation . We need to think about where the information needs to stop and the human adventure can start (or rather continue).

Today we are already launching various space missions using satellites but I am glad that NASA is resuscitating space programs to send people to the moon and are thinking to send people on Mars. I am still waiting for an equivalent of the Star Trek Enterprise to meet Mr Spock and search for this final frontier quest to recognise at last that the adventure is where the man can go, not the machine. It is imperative to think where is the place of information systems in term of exploration, and the need to place human first to live the adventure, not watching it.


Peter said...

I could echo much of what is said in this lovely argument. There is a sense of loss, and a related sense of need, in progress. Doesn't it say a lot about the paradox of the human condition that this can be so.

We need adventure, discovery, and for things to require our intelligence and understanding.

One sunny afternoon in a bar in Thassos, I chatted with an old man, a native of that island, now probably long since dead. He told me that he had lived his entire adult life as a merchant sailor. He told me tales of exploration and discovery on the African coast. He loved to travel, he said.

Whereupon I asked him if had ever flown anywhere.

"No, no" he replied in his faltering English, "never fly, for I would never feel that I had actually travelled."

hmatt said...

Reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness - about the days when Africa's interior was a great white emptiness on the charts - does leave you feeling like we were born too late!