Ever since the Terminator movies (or, if you are old enough, Colossus: The Forbin Project, the movie from 1970) the Robot Apocalypse has been a running gag in geek circles. Paranoia is great fun sometimes. So Robert Wright’s piece, “Building a Giant Brain” fits into a familiar comedic sub-genre (meme, as the kids say). The Internet is a giant brain, we are just cogs, uh, neurons, ha, ha, ha. I don’t mind the joke but I think the meme’s getting more than a little anemic.
It’s also familiar from Dorris Lessing’s science fiction (although she favored something more organic perhaps) and, especially, from H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. Wells and Lessing, though, seemed to have an awareness of privilege in general and education in particular that is often lacking in this sort of contemporary humor. It’s not so funny if you realize that the relatively privileged may one day be running the world of the poor via cloud computing.
That’s A Modest Proposal territory, but Swift’s wit is likely too savagely class conscious for U.S. tastes. There’s lots of class vocabulary tossed around– I heard on the food channel a guy profess to be cooking “Blue Collar Dollar” but he couldn’t say what that meant– but I am not sure there’s much insight. The problem, as always, is trying to get relatively privileged people to recognize their own materiel advantages, not to eliminate them, but to make them more widely available.