Watching a few old Star Trek episodes the other day, I noticed that on the whole, the series is rather optimistic about technology. I find this particularly interesting because American science fiction (at least the television variety) is usually suspicious of science. Chances are, off the top of your head, that any story you might remember about a machine becoming self aware and deciding to kill humans, is American (or at least mainstream Hollywood).
Isaac Asimov had written about this once, saying that in contrast to American approach to technology, Russian science fiction was very optimistic. Their robots did break down and behave badly, but they were promptly fixed and things moved on. And as far as the Japanese are concerned, they positively glorify technology (giant defender robots anyone?).
Anyway, back to Star Trek and some general impressions about how we react to technology and the various ways we relate with it in our daily lives. On the Starship Enterprise, the benevolent Computer watches everything and everyone at all times. The personal logs the crew members make (like video diary entries) are submitted unto the Computer as well. Various security protocols are run by the Computer also. The assumption of course, is that the Computer will work in the best interests of the humans who have installed it. What I find doubly interesting about the Star Trek vision is that on the rare occasion when things do go wrong and the Enterprise reels out of control, balance is restored quickly by clever use of some more technology.
As I said, this is a rather odd thing for American science fiction. More often than not, American SF depends on cowboy heroics and technology gone wrong to make do. It is to Gene Roddenberry’s merit that the Star Trek Franchise (particularly TNG) is as visionary as it is. But aside from the visionary aspect, how practical is a Computer-like intelligence watching over us? I am, by no stretch of imagination, a technophobe or even a general pessimist. But at the end of the day, any machine intelligence is as good as the human who supervises it.