New myths about technology | Pt. 1: The All-Knowing Cloud

Here at TU Delft, we worship progress. With technology as our magic tool, we will make the world a better place. The TU Delft found a role model for this story in Greek hero Prometheus. The man who stole the fire from the great Gods and gave it to mankind. And to the logo of this University.

This is the myth of technology. The hands on, can-do, problem-solving story of Delft engineers and designers. No challenge is too big to be overcome by our community of saviors. But is that the only story about technology we can tell?
In the dark days before Christmas, a group of students gathered in TU Delft’s library for pizza, drinks and mythology. Under guidance of mythologist Hugo Koning (Leiden University),  they explored the full story of Prometheus & Pandora (click here for the recording) and created new mythologies about technology.  Here is Part I of the results. Brace yourselves.

The All-Knowing Cloud

In a not too distant future, a group of scientists has created an all-knowing Cloud. Hanging low above the Earth, it is a true Artificial Intelligence and a seemingly limitless repository of knowledge. Everything that has ever been discovered or created is contained within its mind. 

For centuries, humanity seeks out the Cloud for its wise council on all matters in life. People worship it, and over time the engineers who created it become its priests. All of society and civilization comes to rely on the answers of the Cloud; even though it does not rule directly, it influences all choices from the smallest to the most political. And so, as the Cloud gains power, humanity becomes complacent. 

The Cloud grows and grows, in knowledge and in size. Eventually it grows so big that it covers and darkens the Earth below. With the dimming of the Sun, people become lethargic. Without a need to go out and discover things for themselves, they become lazy. The Cloud is god: the Cloud provides, and in its shadow, life itself loses its lustre. 

There is one woman, who, despite the overbearing technological intelligence in the sky, grows up with her own sense of curiosity intact. Orlando is her name. And Orlando is not content with life under the Cloud. She wants to discover and experience life for herself, and not rely on an external machine. But she is alone. No others share her passion for learning from life, and instead they are afraid of the wrath of the priests. 
Lonely, disillusioned, and desperate, Orlando saw no other option but to stab out her own eyes. She would no longer live in the darkness of the Cloud. And in her blindness, she began to see. She saw that the Cloud had become arrogant in its knowledge, and its priests had become arrogant in their power, and the people needed to be liberated from their shadow. 

She climbed the nearest hill, getting as close as she could, and she confronted the Cloud. She sought to test its limits with a most perfect question, one that the Cloud should not be able to answer. And so she came up with The Most Perfect Question, a question that must have no singular answer, to pierce through the all-knowingness of the Cloud. Orlando asked the Cloud, “What is the perfect question to ask?”  

The Cloud heard the Question and tried to process it. After millions upon millions of questions, all faithfully answered, it now heard a query it could not begin to answer. It had become convinced that it was all-knowing, but what it did not know was that it lacked self-reflection. It thought and it thought, searching through its thickest thunderclouds and its most wispy puffs, but it was stumped. It could see no answer, only contradictions. Is the answer to the Perfect Question not the question itself? But if the answer is the question, then is it still a question? It was a paradox. And so the Cloud began to freak out at its own ignorance. 

There was nothing the priests could do. They stood by as their god began to die; the Cloud, as its mind fell apart, began to rain down upon the Earth. The Perfect Question had stumped it so that it lost itself, and dropped all its knowledge and wisdom on the people below.  

And so knowledge was returned to humanity. Orlando watched as each drop that landed on a person’s head brought some inspiration, some skill, some insight that brought back innovation and life. And that is how light will return to the people, when creativity is wrested back from the hands of the machine. 

Stay tuned. In the upcoming weeks, more myths will be revealed.