Luke Skywalker probably can’t code

17 Oct

The article by Ryan Britt about how society in Star Wars seems to have “slipped into a kind of highly functional illiteracy” is interesting, particularly if you catch the unpronounced warning that this may be where we are heading as well.

To add to the absence of passive written information in people’s lives, another major piece of culture that seems to have been completely left to the droids is the knowledge about active information, software code. Citizens of the Star Wars universe make use of lots of advanced information technology, but you don’t ever see them relating to it in any creative way. It’s all about using fixed interfaces. Very advanced interfaces, certainly, including flawless speech recognition, holographic visuals etc. But nothing that taps into the true power of IT by controlling what the tools can do.

Who created the fantastic future replacements for books and Ipads that the intergalactic counterpart of Apple Inc. churns out? Droids, no doubt. The only individual I can think of doing something that would require knowledge of programming is R2D2 hacking into various systems. (Obi-Wan turns off a tractor beam on one occasion, but that’s less impressive.) This is a boring variant of the singularity, machines becoming smarter than humans and not exterminating them physically, but intellectually. The droids have taken over the tasks that they do better than humans, and humans have become something on the level of pets, cattle, or vermin. They still see the machines as their servants, but the relationship is far from obvious if you try to see it objectively. (Then, the machines apparently stopped being creative too, because technology doesn’t change in the decades we see over the six films.)

Interestingly, humans still have the basic skills to tinker with hardware. Brat Anakin, for instance, constructs not only a racing pod but also a droid, C3PO. So didn’t he code C3PO’s mind? No, Anakin’s droid is a standard issue, with the same design in both hardware and software as lots of others. It’s like somebody building a car, using only existing ideas and blueprints. Anakin put the pieces together, connected the wires.

A final reflection: I wonder what mental capabilities our ancestors would have missed if they could see us today. After all, technology’s greatest contribution is to permit people to be incompetent at a larger and larger range of things.

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2 Responses to “Luke Skywalker probably can’t code”

  1. unmetronomic October 18, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Nice to see you back to blogging again.

    On a tangent to the post, I find it interesting to contemplate to what extent a thing written actually is code, or strives to be code, in the sense that it should be executable; to what extent are, say תּוֹרָה or القرآن الكريم (the Torah or the Qu’ran, as internet tell me they should be written), or a building’s safety instructions in case of fire, code, which some programmer/writers has written and try to execute on a group of people under certain circumstances? Obviously, the hardware in this case – the group this document/program is directed to – is flesh, so the execution will be more flawed than it would have been on what we usually call a computer.

    How would one draw the border between texts written intended not to be executed and text intended to be executed? Is information:code::rhetorical question:normal question a good analogy?

    On another tangent to the post, have you read MSTRMND’s analysis of STAR WARS? It argues that there is a visual language communicating in the movie (which requires a different kind of literacy on our part), which could to some extent explain the lack of written communication in the movie (to compare with the conflict between written and visual languages in The Shining; Jack might be able to read, but he cannot navigate the visual labyrinth of the Overlook the way Danny can):

    http://www.mstrmnd.com/log/1241

    Highly recommended.

  2. Jesper Larsson October 18, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    unmetronomic: Thanks for reflections and link. I don’t have any followup comments at this time, but I expect to get back to you on the subject eventually, here or AFK.

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