Retro Fears, Modern Tech: Same Old Scare from PCs to AI
I wasn't old enough to watch the rise of personal computers but I was in the thick of the digital revolution, personally orchestrating the transfer of over 200 studio titles from film to digital formats. Being part of such a transformative period was nothing short of exhilarating.
My quest for knowledge didn't stop there. An unquenchable curiosity led me to delve into the era of personal computers, to get a real sense of how it all started in the 80s. I may not have experienced the initial apprehension firsthand, but through my research, I understood the shared fear. People were unsure about their jobs and the practicality of these foreign machines.
Slowly but surely, fear gave way to acceptance. A turning point that really struck me was Apple's iconic "1984" commercial. This wasn't just a marketing masterpiece; it was a game-changer. It successfully reframed personal computers as tools of creativity and personal liberty, challenging the dominant narrative and gradually easing public concern.
Today, we find ourselves in the era of AI, a field I'm enthusiastically immersing myself in. The echoes from the past are undeniable. The familiar apprehension and skepticism are there. Job security and societal changes are again hot topics of discussion. But as I keep studying and observing, I'm witnessing a shift in perception. AI is increasingly being showcased as an assistant, a helper. Commercials today often spotlight AI personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, demonstrating their utility in everyday tasks.
Below are examples of the initial fear and resistance towards computers during their early years:
Luddites - Named after the English textile workers who protested against newly developed labor-economizing technologies in the 19th century, "Luddite" has become a term used to describe those who oppose new technology. In the 80s and 90s, some people, referred to as the "modern Luddites," showed apprehension towards computers, fearing job losses and increased alienation. You can read more about it on the BBC's website.
The New York Times - In a 1985 articles titled "The Executive Computer", The New York Times detailed how some executives refused to use personal computers, feeling overwhelmed by the technology and fearing it would replace their jobs. The articles can be read here.
Steve Jobs - In an interview, Steve Jobs spoke about how people were initially afraid of computers and that Apple's goal was to make computers friendly and accessible. He believed that overcoming this fear was crucial for the acceptance of personal computers. Check out the interview here.
Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in the field of Artificial Intelligence and author of "The Society of Mind", wrote about the fear people felt towards computers, suggesting it was due to the unknown and the potential for these machines to surpass human capabilities. Learn more about Minsky's views here.
Atlantic Magazine - An article in the Atlantic titled "When People Feared Computers" details the shift in public sentiment towards computers over the years, highlighting the fear of job losses and privacy concerns. You can read it here.holds,
Routledge - "Computer Phobia and Computer Anxiety" - This academic book explores the notion of "computer phobia," a term used in the 80s and 90s to describe a fear of computers. The book suggests that this fear arose from worries about job displacement, lack of understanding, and concerns about the societal impact of the technology. You can read more here.
Joseph Weizenbaum - A renowned computer scientist, Weizenbaum witnessed computer anxiety first hand. His development of the ELIZA program, a computer program that mimicked a psychotherapist, led to concerns about machines replacing human roles in sensitive areas. Learn more about his work and these fears here.
War Games (1983) - This movie is an example of media-induced fear of computers during the early 1980s. The film, in which a computer almost starts World War III, led to widespread apprehension about the potential risks computers could pose. Learn more about the movie and its impact here.
Throughout my journey, both in my professional experiences and personal studies, one thing has become clear: initial fear of disruptive tech is a normal reaction. It's the trepidation faced when confronting the unknown. But, as history has shown us, with time and increased understanding, this fear often dissipates, replaced by acceptance and even dependence. This was the narrative for personal computers, and we're observing a similar story with AI.