We all know about automatic gadgets where the designers have tried to take just that little bit too much out of the user’s hands. They can be useful and labour-saving, but sometimes you need less and get more.
Automatic cameras are a good example. No need to focus, or even know what focus might be. It allows millions to take better photos with no effort and the enthusiasts can still buy more involving cameras anyway. So no problems with camera automation.
Yet we become familiar with these changes in subtle, barely-noticed ways. They change our behaviour and expectations. From that point of view, automation is worthy of our attention. There is some obvious stuff such as Direct Debit, but although its dangers may be obvious, we are used to it, accept it and allow it to change our behaviour.
How far could automation go – in a technical sense? Where are the limits? How invasive could it become?
Ah – but that isn’t the issue is it? The issue is not the invasive automation of gadgets such as cameras but the automation of processes. Direct Debit is both. The two are blending – technology and process become one. We see it all the time in climate change and health propaganda. Don't eat red meat. Why not? Health or policy?
What are going through in these early years of the twenty-first century is the automation of policy-delivery. That's why the propaganda is so repetitive and so obviously stupid. We are witnessing the end of debate because even mainstream political debate has been automated towards policy-delivery. Debate is now framed around efficient delivery of policy, not policy itself. Policy is a given.
Debate on policy just gets in the way, reduces efficiency. It's been that way throughout human history of course, apart from a temporary hiatus we nostalgically refer to as democracy. Now democracy has pretty well disappeared and policy-delivery is back with a vengeance - with the added power of computer technology to automate the process.
If you don’t want a bunch of wind turbines looming over your district – tough. There is no point showing how climate science is a crock because debate isn’t on the table. There’s no point protesting either – the process is automatic.
We are not witnessing the banning of real contrarian debate, not yet at least, but a process of shunting it into the sidings - mostly onto the internet. Contrarian debate is now in the hands of bloggers and blog commenters. The mainstream process doesn’t want it, because mainstream debates have been automated, the language and justifications churned out automatically as a script.
Even technical evidence is now generated automatically by policy-delivery processes. Climate models are policy-delivery models - they have nothing to do with the real climate. If they had, they wouldn't be funded.
The answer of course, if there is an answer, is to keep chipping away at the machine with real debates. This seems to be where the power of the internet lies. This is the beneficial side of automation - the debating tool we never had before.
How it will pan out, I have no idea, but one of the major global policies, climate change, is running into difficulties, most of it caused by genuine political and scientific debate over the internet. A lack of real global warming wasn’t enough. That's why the climate debate is still important - automated policy-delivery hasn't yet been halted. We need to show that it can be.