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Essential human interaction must not be lost in the name of Big Tech 'progress'

'Society is becoming more detached, isolated and disdainful of people'
The Dalek's behind the bar

The Dalek's behind the bar

Roy Curtis

MORE and more, the cruel winds of progress threaten our delicate toehold on the tightrope of sanity.

From impenetrable, maddening automated answering services that are the anti-assistance norm for banks and utility companies, to our Stockholm Syndrome relationship with attention-span kidnapping phones, Big Tech has re-imagined life as a study in the impersonal.

Little by little the erosion of human contact - closing rural post offices, allowing small town pubs perish, banning cash at GAA turnstiles - makes rubble of the old ways.

And undoes a vital, life-sustaining aspect of existence.

I refer to the essential vitamin of authentic, daily human interaction.

For older people, particularly those who live alone, its loss is a confounding development, a pernicious social cancer.

Little wonder then, that study after study shines a light on the ever greater number of people besieged in this online age by debilitating anxiety and crushing solitude.

Literally losing the will to live.

Loneliness, after all, is a thirst of the soul for the cup of human company.

With each passing week modern society becomes ever more detached, isolating and callously disdainful of people.

As wonderful organisations like The Samaritans illustrate, the listening ear of another animate being can be a parachute for a falling spirit, a life-saving antidote to an existence that feels solitary, forlorn, bruised, hopeless.

Perhaps I'm a citizen of a bygone age, a refugee from an era where human contact was valued as a vital measure of well-being.

A time-expired old fogey from a world before we were told to savour our own approaching doom, to regard subservience to technology as something lovely, like a bejewelled Fabergé egg or an Adriatic seascape at a blood-red sunset.

Reading a report last week on how Artificial Intelligence - robots to you and me - is already equipped to replace people in carrying out centuries-old crafts, I was bewildered by the writer's undisguised enthusiasm for the project.

He relished a journey that must inevitably conclude with a total eclipse of humanity, the piece-by-piece dismembering of society.

What he was unveiling was a full-on Bond-villain vision of a world governed by machines.

In the initial stages of this cyborg revolution, barbering and bar work are among the trades to be assumed by androids.

What a truly apocalyptic thought: Daleks taking time off from seeking to exterminate Doctor Who to do a Saturday night shift pulling pints of stout down at the local.

Because of their own anti-social ways, Big Tech assumes this is just a soulless join-the-dots job.

Stripping a great barman from a pub and expecting it to retain its atmospheric magic is as absurd as sidelining David Clifford while insisting it won't harm Kerry's chances of winning the All-Ireland.

Various Silicon Valley geeks - a constituency who worship machines, care more for data than people and who are dollar-rich but empathy-destitute - swoon at the prospect of dumping the rest of us on some technological scrapheap.

Their mantra is simple and unapologetic: Hand the keys of the kingdom to AI, to robots and drones, computer interfaces and human/machine hybrids.

And to Hell with all apocalyptic consequences.

Like the grim truth that the people whose lives these inventions are supposed to improve quickly become collateral damage. Unemployable, expendable, sailing aimlessly through the years on an abandoned ghost ship.

Pain, poverty, even greater inequality and violence are inevitable consequences of such a brave new world.

Of course, technology has been responsible for some marvellous medical, scientific and environmental advances.

But the sense is we are advancing to the cusp of a tipping point.

One where humanity is rendered a gurgling, redundant nothing, reduced to what the great American author Paul Auster calls the "flotsam of flesh and bone".

And yet the talk - even as they openly discuss rendering centuries-old trades obsolete - is always of "progress", "advances", "breakthroughs", a "new age".

Are we really this emotionally illiterate?

Turkeys not only voting for Christmas but looking forward to having our necks wrung and a fistful of cranberry-infused breadcrumbs shoved up our rear ends.

Crude imagery aside, this is an existential issue, as great a threat to the next generation as climate change or nuclear-empowered, neo-imperialist autocrats.

Yuval Noah Hariri, best-selling author of Sapiens, is among the foremost thinkers of our age.

In our slavish surrender to technology, he believes civilisation is wilfully pressing the accelerator on the race to cultural Armageddon.

The urge is to call one of these vast Big Tech corporations and scream down the line about the unravelling of hope.

Unfortunately, the five years that must be endured on their automated service seeking to get through to another human will render such a tactic an exercise in futility.

And deliver one more victory for Artificial Intelligence in its rapacious quest to make our lives both worthless and miserable.

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