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Entertained to extinction

September 14, 2009

I came across this fantastic short essay by an evolutionary psychologist named Geoffrey Miller that summed up something that’s been on my mind (and probably the minds of many) for years. His (vaguely tongue-in-cheek) thesis is that maybe the reason that we have not yet been contacted by alien life is that they, like us, began to direct their technological resources toward entertainment instead of exploration. Rather than using technology for overtly self-destructive purposes via machines of war, he posits a more subliminal, sinister fate of our alien kin:

Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today.

Miller’s essay reminds me of how Pixar’s 3D imaging technology was originally marketed to government agencies and the medical industry. In the end they accidentally discovered that the real arena of profitability was in animated movies. When I look at the phenomenal amounts of creativity and money going into entertainment, I sometimes can’t help wondering what those resources could accomplish if they were directed at something more mundane, like solving world hunger.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009 4:46 am

    Miller’s essay reminds me of how Pixar’s 3D imaging technology was originally marketed to government agencies and the medical industry. In the end they accidentally discovered that the real arena of profitability was in animated movies.

    Aren’t a good number of innovations and products originally developed for scientific and military uses? Some medicines are also researched and tested for one ailment but end up treating another.

    • pjwson permalink*
      September 14, 2009 6:59 am

      Yes. The internet is a prime example. My mention of Pixar was to illustrate that a disproportionate amount of industry is devoted to entertainment and consumerism.

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