Editorial – Oct 2014: Judgement calls. The robots are coming. an editorial by GF Willmetts

Hello everyone

Everyone on the Net is influenced by what they read, especially when it comes to reviews. We might live by our reputation of being honest reviewers on SFCrowsnest and seeing the same names all the time, you tend to get to know us or at least our tastes to know if they match your own judgement or not. At least, I hope you do. Away from here, we all put our hands in the hands of strangers as to whether something we wish to buy will do what we think it does. It isn’t that difficult to work out, at least with mechanical devices, the division between those who can work out what they are doing and those who might need a sat-nav to walk down the street they live on.

At that point, it’s up to how you decide to evaluate. Do you only look at the good or bad reviews or balance between them, making a judgement call based off that information as to what they know. I expect most of you will not buy if you don’t see a review at all which shows how much we value opinions, regardless who makes them. Saying that, someone must take the plunge or nothing would be bought. On rare occasions, you might even spot me on a particular river site although it sometimes tends to be outside of our remit here. Of course, the best balancing act is to see how many good reviews against how many bad there are and evaluate based off of that.

In many respects, our judgement is something we only learn from experience. We base our initial decisions on all kinds of information, from advertising to personal choice. I suspect some even choose solely on colour! How much we are manipulated by advertisers presumably depends on how much we depend on leading brands, usefulness of product or not then that’s when it ends up in a cupboard.

It’s amazing more people aren’t over-whelmed with the amount of information out there but, like our eyesight, we can focus solely on one thing at a time as we isolate where our interests lie. Even so, it doesn’t explain how our brains work when we make the wrong call. Sending it back tends to be one option but it still needs another choice so, hopefully, the replacement is better or will it have a similar problem. One can only hope that it is the right choice.

Even so, you would expect when we’re making decisions about people and products all the time that we would be getting better at deciding, especially with the Internet where we don’t even touch the product until it arrives. Oddly, it also appears that more people depend on applications with some of your hardware to guide buying decisions and these might be more from the manufacturer selling a product than someone who has it to hand. It does make me wonder how many people realise that these processes aren’t totally automated but depend on information people put into them. This can happen in standard reviews as well, usually picked out when similar comments appears repeatedly and that someone, like the manufacturer, has a hand in the comments.

So, does your judgement calls take this into account or just the information it provides? When you see the driving disasters with people relying solely on sat-navs when driving, there is always a small percentage of the population who rather have someone or something making the decisions for them than make a judgement call themselves. This tends to make me think that there are some people who are getting to be the closest thing to robots which can be rather unsettling.

In many respects, you can see trends for decision-making throughout civilisation. The only difference now is how sophisticated it’s become. Instead of relying on the prediction of an oracle for the pantheon of gods’ wishes, it is a device in your hand that provides the information. What they share in common is very few question from the authenticity of the information given. It is this kind of thing that tends to make a false utopia of well-being. George Orwell’s Big Brother would have eaten up and controlled such a population with ease in ‘1984’. Actually, they did, didn’t it? This only leaves the dissenters to voice their concern and a little friendly mind-numbing interrogation if caught.

Remember me saying that we live very much in a Science Fiction reality these days with high-tech devices? It is always useful to remember that we should not sell our souls to it. A lot of SF pointed out the downside of any future that does so. Currently, we have a situation where we can be in constant contact with whomever we choose who shares a similar device. I say ‘can’ only because I’ve never had such a need after my Mum died. Then again, I saw the mobile phone as an emergency device not for continuous communication.

Anyway, I digress. The same kinds of feeds provide whatever information you want to have. Of course, you can’t have everything and even some parents are trying to enforce times when their spogs aren’t glued to their mini-devices, like mealtimes. After all, these are no long toys designed to simulate but are the real thing and no one questions the information that is given. It’s just there. No one wonders about the people who are busy providing it. This goes beyond reviews. In a generation or two, the people who aren’t involved in collating information won’t know or care where it comes from and totally believe whatever is told them. The robot factor will grow and reduce the need to free will…or at least where it counts. Once it’s gone that far, any population can be controllable simply by being the first in the queue. That should be a scary thought for all of us here. I mean, if we’re not being controlled as non-conformists then everyone else around us is.

It’s also part of the many SF realities we’ve seen over the years. Is it any wonder that we’ve seen such realities fall into a rut and unwilling to change? Therefore, what about the risk that we might fall into a similar trap ourselves, even within our own lifetimes? We often wonder how such odd utopias are created. From the looks of things, we drift into them and accept it as normality. Where will the renaissance man or woman come from to show us where we’re going wrong? There are no time machines or people in hibernation likely to be revived to waken our eyes. It’s an interesting prospect and holds an aspect of truth that it might actually be one of you with an SF background to start propagating the idea of free will. There’s a certain amount of irony about that. Even more so coming from an editor of an SF website who likes the idea of SF futures as indeed you are and can see some fallacies in even where our current reality is leading.

The real question is are we strong enough to resist and speak out if it goes too far, let alone getting others to see we’re right? Are they going to trust us SF geeks, assuming that is what they still call us? Are we capable of keeping our own judgement and free will and see things differently or are we doomed to fall into the same trap? After all, it is a judgement call and we already embrace technology.


Thank you, take care, good night and independence is what makes geeks out of us. Do you really want to lose that?


Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


A Zen thought: I think, therefore I am alive. Of course, I could be an algorithm but that’s just maths talking.


Observation: Looking at ways to get the xenomorph out of the Nostromo. Considering it was known to be in the air vents and they could be shut off, surely it would have made more sense to isolate them and just drain the air out. You wouldn’t even have to put on spacesuits. Of course, no one would have died but Ash would have had to have found different ways to remove the expendable crew to save the alien. After all, an android doesn’t breath only simulated the lung action. Mind you, he had more of a need for the crew as a breeding ground.