Anyone who entertains a complex based on the idea that computers will become self-aware and start taking over the world has undoubtedly been labeled neurotic in days gone by. Science fiction's multimedia warnings have been discredited under the banner of playful nonsense. Countless depictions of a dystopian future, riddled with anguish and smoke, have to the more impressionable of us imprinted themselves on our minds. Nightmares ensue, where mankind's fleshy weakness consistently falters in the shadow of a robot's steely magnitude and seeming impenetrability.
But it seems that the more paranoid segment of the population have finally solidified evidence for their doubt. The Thirsty Bear in Waterloo has become one of the first pubs in the country to warrant the adjective, robotic, since a revolutionized serving system was put in place early this year. Rather than standing and queuing for a drink at a bustling bar, cash clutched in hand, this electronic establishment has lessened the questionable hassle.
On entering the pub, a thirsty customer will note that each of the tables is equipped with its own iPad, attached to the surface by an ominously thick, spine-like cable. On closer inspection, the potential drinker will notice that several beer taps wait patiently at the end of each table, motionless and ready to serve. The bar is unnervingly empty, and the clientele atomised. Slowly, the truth begins to sink in. The public house, one of Britain's most potent nation symbols, has been roboticised. No longer is human interaction required between server and servee. The paradigm shift has become grotesque, and to the more colourfully minded, computers are now in control.
The concept is fairly simple, but the potential repercussions are titanic. The iPad has finally, concretely, replaced the human being. Instead of ordering drinks at the bar, ogling the bar maid, chatting with neighbours and all of the other rites of passage that a British pub involves, these human experiences have been systematically eradicated. The Ipad controls each and every element of your culinary experience. Not only does it allow you pour your own drinks, but it controls an individual television screen, a juke box, and of course, the internet.
Luckily, Steve Jobs and his empire have not yet mustered up the ability to mimic Wallace and Gromit. The ironically named super power has not yet invented a food-serving system. A glimmer of hope sparks as a smiling waitress toddles over to the table, carrying chips. Her greeting is casual and friendly, and the complete disappearance of mankind's ability to socially interact within tangible terms seems like a childish fear; for a few seconds. The waitress deposits the food, turns on her heel, and reveals an iPhone, glowing and glaring, attached to her arm.
As mentioned before, these deep-seated anxieties have not bred themselves without fertilisation. The giddying increase in intelligence of Apple software is blaringly evident. Sitting on a train which transports hundreds of London commuters from Victoria to Orpington is a perfect environment to measure the height and weight of this issue. One carriage, comfortably carrying around thirty people, witnesses each and every one gazing blankly at an iPhone. Not looking out of the window, not talking to their neighbours, not reading a book. If a man ran past the window in his underpants nobody would notice. If a shooting star scarred the sky it would be ignored in the wake of a Facebook update about the hangover of an outdated acquaintance.
On the subject of pixels, an eerily prophetic summation of a fast tracked planet earth has been viewed by millions of spectators worldwide. Pixar's Wall-E is the tale of a lonely robot who has been assigned the task of cleaning up our battered planet, in the wake of the indifferent departure of the human race. Rather than dying out, Wall-E presents us as obese, flaccid slugs that glide around on touch screen beds ignoring each other. Although perhaps distanced in the germination process, in my mind the Thirsty Bear in Waterloo and the hyperreality depicted in Wall-E are a short step away from becoming synonymous.
People have now been given even more of a reason to ignore their fellow human beings, elongating the preexistent gulf between one another that technology has arguably created. In 1996 the psychologist and enlightener Sherry Turkle spoke to an avid audience about how technology could facilitate a beneficial yet controlled relationship between the virtual and the tangible worlds.
Flashing forward to 2012, her tone is one of furrowed angst, as we teeter on the precipice that we have forged ourselves. Beautifully articulated, she speaks of how 'texting, emailing, posting, all of these things allow us to present ourselves as we want to be.' She describes how we as human beings have forgotten how to be alone. In a crowded train carriage, in a restaurant, waiting for the bus, we are no longer able to sit and ponder on our relationship with our immediate surroundings.
Whilst huddled around the Ipad in what once would have been called a public house, the bonds of human interaction have once again been severed and replaced by the superiority of the device. This is a powerful step forwards into the future of artificial intelligence, into a future where we can forget our capacity for eloquence, our patience, and our concentration spans.
'People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere - connected to all of the different places they want to be. We sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short change our lives.'
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