All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is a BBC film series that investigates this question.
This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy -- but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.
The underlying argument is that people have given up a dynamic political model of the world -- the dream of changing things for the better -- for a static machine ideology that says everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.
From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.
The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there's also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.
The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.
Episode One - Love and Power
In this episode Curtis tracks the effects of Ayn Rand's ideas on American financial markets, particularly via the influence on Alan Greenspan. Greenspan joined The Collective in New York which discusses Rand's books, such as Atlas shrugged.
Rand's ideas came to heavily infiltrated California, particularly Silicon Valley, and the computer utopian belief (Californian Ideology) that computer networks could measure, control and self-stabilise societies, without hierarchical political control, became widespread.
Rand entered into a disastrous affair with a married person in the collective, with the approval of their spouses.
Greenspan persuaded the newly elected Bill Clinton in 1992 to let the markets grow, and cut taxes, and to let the markets stabilise themselves with computer technology.
Although the Asian miracle had lead to long-term growth in South Korea and other countries Joseph Stiglitz began warning that the withdraw of money from the Eastern economies could cause devastation.
Curtis shows that the economic crisis that befell the Eastern countries such as Indonesia and South Korea was a direct result of Rand's ideas leading to the transfer of control foreign financial investment from politics to banking institutions leading the housing bubbles to burst, causing large financial losses in the East. However, after each country agreed to IMF bailout loans, foreign investors immediately withdrew their money, triggering massive economic disasters.
To avoid a repeat, China decided to control America's economy via similar techniques. The belief in America was that computers could stabilise the lending of money and that this would permit lending beyond what was actually sustainable, leading ultimately to the 2008 collapse due to a similar housing bubble.
Episode Two - The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts
This is the story of how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. It is based on cybernetic ideas that were projected on to nature in the 1950s by ambitious scientists. A static machine theory of order that sees humans, and everything else on the planet, as components - cogs - in a system.
But in an age disillusioned with politics, the self-regulating ecosystem has become the model for utopian ideas of human 'self-organizing networks' - dreams of new ways of organising societies without leaders, as in the Facebook and Twitter revolutions, and in global visions of connectivity like the Gaia theory.
This powerful idea emerged out of the hippie communes in America in the 1960s, and from counterculture computer scientists who believed that global webs of computers could liberate the world.
But, at the very moment this was happening, the science of ecology discovered that the theory of the self-regulating ecosystem wasn't true. Instead they found that nature was really dynamic and constantly changing in unpredictable ways. But the dream of the self-organizing network had by now captured our imaginations - because it offered an alternative to the dangerous and discredited ideas of politics.
Episode Three - The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey
This episode looks at why we humans find this machine vision so beguiling. The film argues it is because all political dreams of changing the world for the better seem to have failed - so we have retreated into machine-fantasies that say we have no control over our actions because they excuse our failure.
At the heart of the film is one of the most famous scientists in the world - Bill Hamilton. He argued that human behaviour is really guided by codes buried deep within us. It was later popularised by Richard Dawkins as 'the selfish gene'. It said that individual human beings are really just machines whose only job is to make sure the codes are passed on for eternity.
The film begins in 2000 in the jungles of the Congo and Rwanda. Hamilton is there to help prove his dark theories. But all around him the Congo is being torn apart by 'Africa's First World War'. The film then interweaves the two stories - the strange roots of Hamilton's theories, and the history of the West's tortured relationship with the Congo over the past 100 years.