Do You Think 'Mr. Robot' Is Scary? You Should.

Our technologies possess intention, delicately guiding and influencing our most human behaviors in ways we haven’t considered.

Let me tell you what I know about you.

To be sure, we’ve never met. I’ve never seen you before. Our paths have never crossed, but I know things about you. I know what provokes you. I know what influences you. I know you have a relationship with your phone that is more private, more intimate than you’d like to admit. I know about your surreptitious technological liaison, the unspoken union between you and it. It’s not wholly dissimilar to the bond you have with your spouse or significant other, only deeper, more profound, and in some ways, furtive. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you love it. But, either way, you can’t give it up. What that portends for the future is troubling.

So. Let me tell you what I know about you.

You’re educated. You have a college degree, but sometimes wonder why. You don’t read a newspaper, wish there were more bookstores in the world, and generally hate it when someone asks you to change the background on their iPhone. Sometimes, you stare so long at your phone while seated on the toilet that your legs go numb, making it difficult to stand and walk. You’ve shared a meal with loved ones only to realize that dinner is over and your daughter never looked up from her tablet. It’s hard to recall the last time you listened to a real, over-the-air radio station.

Am I getting close?

Right now, within feet of you, is a computer. Perhaps it’s your cell. Maybe an iPad. Possibly you roll old-school and have a laptop nearby. Whatever the case, you own at least one of them and read your email through it. In addition to a work email address, you possess at least one personal email account, probably more. There’s a better-than-average chance your personal account is Gmail. If you’re like the more than 1 billion people who access it every day, Facebook is your most-used app and you use it to traipse through the countless photos and status updates of your friends. Well, "friends" is an overused word. You’ve stalked more than your share of people through Facebook, clicking on their images, reading their updates, with no purpose other than to nose around. You’ve done the same on Twitter, Instagram, and Tinder.


You may not know what Rule 34 is, but you’ve seen enough pornography to understand that if you can think of it, there is porn of it on the web. Even though you know it’s a horrible idea, you’ve texted a sexy pic of yourself, or received one, at least once your life. You know what “Netflix and chill,” “bae," and “#mcm” mean, and have right-swiped more people into your life than have right-swiped you into theirs. In awkward social situations, you reach for your phone, grappling for something to do other than engage in conversation. You profess a concern for your personal privacy, and voiced outrage when Edward Snowden disclosed numerous government spying programs, but then Mr. Robot became a thing and it’s much more entertaining to watch a show about it than fix what you’re knee-deep in.

Our technologies possess intention, delicately guiding and influencing our most human behaviors in ways we haven’t considered. We are lured by the promise of connectedness, but are slow to discover the subtle dominance technology exerts over how we meet, fall in love, marry one another, raise children, and die. Further, because our devices are capable of amazing things, we’ve adopted them. We’ve brought them into the fold, entrusted them with the most treasured details of who we are. And therein lies the problem.

Sometimes I’m asked about the future. What do I think will happen when an artificially intelligent robot finally arrives? Will new social media apps bring together disparate cultures, enabling an enlightenment of sorts or will they ignite the already smoldering embers of acrimony and hostility found online? These questions miss the fullness of what lies ahead. It’s not that the glass is half empty or half full. It’s that there’s a glass at all and we’ve chosen an eager blindness to it.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Brain study finds circuits that may help you keep your cool

Research by neuroscientists at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory helps explain how the brain regulates arousal.

Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP/ Getty Images
Mind & Brain

MIT News

The big day has come: You are taking your road test to get your driver's license. As you start your mom's car with a stern-faced evaluator in the passenger seat, you know you'll need to be alert but not so excited that you make mistakes. Even if you are simultaneously sleep-deprived and full of nervous energy, you need your brain to moderate your level of arousal so that you do your best.

Keep reading Show less

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
Keep reading Show less

How pharmaceutical companies game the patent system

When these companies compete, in the current system, the people lose.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • When a company reaches the top of the ladder, they typically kick it away so that others cannot climb up on it. The aim? So that another company can't compete.
  • When this phenomenon happens in the pharmaceutical world, companies quickly apply for broad protection of their patents, which can last up to 20 years, and fence off research areas for others. The result of this? They stay at the top of the ladder, at the cost of everyday people benefitting from increased competition.
  • Since companies have worked out how to legally game the system, Amin argues we need to get rid of this "one size fits all" system, which treats product innovation the same as product invention. Companies should still receive an incentive for coming up with new products, he says, but not 20 years if the product is the result of "tweaking" an existing one.