Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Apple and Humanoids

Interesting -- I honestly hadn't noticed that particular mental linkage until just now. It occurs to me that, the technical foolishness entirely aside, one of the beefs I'm having with Apple right now is fundamentally *political* in nature, and very deeply ingrained at that.

Like most of you, I was influenced by a bunch of books growing up; unsurprisingly, a lot of those books were science fiction. Being a not-atypical teenage male geek, I tended to be influenced somewhat less by the literary quality of those books than by the ideas in them. And the single book that probably influenced me more than any other was Jack Williamson's The Humanoids.

The plot is almost cliche by now, but the story is chillingly simple: a race of humanoid robots come to Earth, with the sole and express purpose of making the people happy and safe. Over the course of the story, it becomes clear that it's straightforward enough to make people happy and safe (and mind, the humanoids are completely sincere about their desires) -- it just requires taking away anything that can possibly make people *not* safe or happy. You are all literate enough to see where this inevitably leads, as the human race gets infantilized for its own good.

The message got driven home in other forms over the years (especially by books on the fascism meme like 1984 and It Can't Happen Here), but The Humanoids pretty much set the tone: I am fundamentally suspicious of *anybody* who parrots the line "we just need to take away a little freedom, to make you safer". Sometimes it's a lie to hide a deeper agenda, sometimes it isn't, but the point is that *even when it is true* it needs to be viewed with a lot of caution. The person who wants to trade your freedom for your safety is not your friend.

And it's a line that Apple has been using over and over again in their publicity. In the current case, it's a blatant lie -- there is absolutely no respect in which the new decision makes users safer, or improves software quality; it's a purely cynical business decision to try to hurt Google. But they keep saying it in various ways, and every time they do so I react more negatively, even in the instances where it is true. Yes, a little safety is nice, but with each restriction of freedom, it looks more and more like infantilizing the users.

(And yes, I do mean that. If you actually look at what Apple has said, consistently from the creation of the iPhone, it is clear that they regard their users as irredeemably incompetent, and they deliberately make their decisions on that basis. It's not that they make things easy to use, it's that they carefully try to make it *impossible* to do anything that might be a problem. A lot of their decisions, such as their hardcore attitude towards multi-tasking, have no other explanation. Does nothing to endear the company to me.)

Yes, some folks will disagree; you're entitled to do so. But I am finding it altogether too easy to see Steve Jobs as Our Benevolent Humanoid Overlord, who will make people happy and safe. All you have to give up is the ability to do anything he disapproves of, because it might be bad for you.

And yes, I can and am opting out of his ecosystem. But this means I get even angrier about Apple's moves on the patent front, or this most recent flap, which are crossing the line from competition as usual into something quite different. It is very clear that, not only are they going to restrict their own users, they are going to do everything in their power to destroy any possible competitors -- they want *everyone* using iPhone technology, and they are being every bit as ruthless about it as Microsoft was at their worst. Hence my passion on the subject: Jobs is rather quickly managing the transition from merely foolish to actively being the current Big Bad of the technology world...
Tags: diary, law, technology

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