Themes in Fiction #6 – The Evils of Technology

Picture by Curtis Palmer

Picture by Curtis Palmer

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.” ― Philip K. Dick


Ah, technology. We fear and love it in equal measure. Man has been writing about technology turning round and fighting back for decades, and with new developments accelerating (Google the statistics about technological change – it’s frightening) all the time, there are even more ways we can imagine it trying to destroy us all.


2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke2001book

The classic, and a very odd book. I went into it expecting it all to be about the infamous HAL 9000, but it only features in a very small section. HAL is perhaps the most memorable computer enemy, turning against the humans in it’s care when it feels threatened.

The fact that it’s a computer on a spaceship only adds to the terror – the humans are almost completely helpless as they fight to shut HAL down.

HAL is just one in a long line of fictional computers or systems that turn against their human creators. Whether it’s becoming ‘self-aware’ or following the rules of robotics through to the logical conclusion of enslaving the human race, computers in sci-fi just can’t be trusted.

How to Survive a Robot Uprising by Daniel H. WilsonRobot Uprising

The concept of robots and computers turning against the human race is so endemic, there are even survival guides out there. Wilson has a PhD in robotics and, somewhat alarmingly, has managed to make a whole book out of how to avoid the multitude of ways they can kill us.

Wilson’s guide to robot survival techniques is hilarious good fun, with fabulous illustrations and plenty of film references, but reading it leaves you with a creeping sensation that you should probably take the information a little more seriously.

As ridiculous as some of the Hollywood scenarios are, there’s something completely believable about robots uprising…

Technology and Nature

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndhamday of the triffids 

Nature and Technology are generally considered opposites – technology bad, nature good. Books where technology has gone out of control often also carry themes about the merits of nature. The Day of the Triffids, though, takes the idea of technology interfering with nature, and the results are pretty terrifying.

The Triffids are genetically engineered plants that can walk and have some intelligence. They also have poisonous barbs that they can fire at people. Yay.

It’s been a long time since I read it, but I believe it turns out they were engineered to be weapons, and when they see their moment, they take it. And the human race barely stands a chance. Moral? Don’t muck around with nature using technology. It’s not going to end well. (See also, Deep Blue Sea.)


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