There is an ill wind blowing
Greek stories are full of hybrid characters, usually man-gods or man-beasts. They represent our mixed nature – something of the gods and something of the animals – and their stories frequently serve as cautionary tales. In more recent times another breed has appeared with another warning – man/machines. But the recent film The Hunger Games draws a whole new creature in our midst.
The monsters are a 3D graphic – animal mix with the human element completely lacking – part ferocious animal and part CAD creation come to life. With ruthless efficiency and jungle like menace they stalk the hero back to the mother ship in a terrifying chase scene. When one is not enough, another appears. The ease with which the techno council of engineers summons them – effectively cloning them at will – gives them an even more menacing quality.
A few centuries ago Dr Frankenstein had to work a lifetime to make a monster. Now a council of engineers can set them loose with the wave of a hand.
Both animal and animation have the same Latin root – anima – meaning breath or soul. The word comes from the Ancient Greek for wind – anemos and herein lays a tale – and a warning. Both Mythology and Philosophy – the twin towers of Ancient Greece – have something to say about this new animating breeze.
The most famous Greek story of the wind is from the Odyssey. The King of the Winds made a gift to Odysseus of all the winds. He placed them in an ox hide bag, keeping out only the gentle West Wind to loosen the sail. With a gentle breeze at his back, Odysseus faithfully kept one hand on the rudder of his ship and the other clutching the bag for nine days as he sailed home. On the tenth day when Odysseus heartbreakingly fell asleep in sight of shore, his men, looking for gold, gave way to their greed and opened the bag. The winds roared into a great storm, and the ship was driven back into the chaos of the open sea. More harrowing adventures were yet to come.
Greece’s most famous Philosopher’s might also have something to say about this new animating power.
Socrates taught about the danger of facility without a moral compass. In his day it was the power of persuasive speech sweeping through the market place that got his attention. What dangers would he point to today?
We hear a lot about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for our future, and rightly so. Technology might be our only way out of the labyrinth we’re in. With the STEMs people leading the charge, we could wake up again to our beautiful world cleansed by our own hand, full of enchantment and freedom and beauty.
But will rigorous training and knowledge and expertise be enough?
Or are we destined to come all this way only to forget that opening the bag will cause us to lose sight of our home and drive us back into chaos? Can our STEMs friends alone put the gentle West Wind at our backs without a Socrates badgering them and fretting over our moral compass or the self control and courage of Odysseus tightly clutching the ox hide bag closed? Or will we one day find a council of new wizards sitting in a room, blithely conjuring up monsters, the empty bag torn and tossed on the floor, without a compass in sight – technique without animus– animators without souls.