What Is Your Dangerous Idea?
After several generations of living in the computer culture, simulation will become fully naturalized. Authenticity in the traditional sense loses its value, a vestige of another time.Sherry Turkle
Consider this moment from 2005: I take my fourteen-year-old daughter to the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. The exhibit documents Darwin's life and thought, and with a somewhat defensive tone (in light of current challenges to evolution by proponents of intelligent design), presents the theory of evolution as the central truth that underpins contemporary biology. The Darwin exhibit wants to convince and it wants to please. At the entrance to the exhibit is a turtle from the Galapagos Islands, a seminal object in the development of evolutionary theory. The turtle rests in its cage, utterly still. "They could have used a robot," comments my daughter. It was a shame to bring the turtle all this way and put it in a cage for a performance that draws so little on the turtle's "aliveness." I am startled by her comments, both solicitous of the imprisoned turtle because it is alive and unconcerned by its authenticity. The museum has been advertising these turtles as wonders, curiosities, marvels — among the plastic models of life at the museum, here is the life that Darwin saw. I begin to talk with others at the exhibit, parents and children. It is Thanksgiving weekend. The line is long, the crowd frozen in place. My question, "Do you care that the turtle is alive?" is welcome diversion. A ten year old girl would prefer a robot turtle because aliveness comes with aesthetic inconvenience: "It's water looks dirty. Gross." More usually, the votes for the robots echo my daughter's sentiment that in this setting, aliveness doesn't seem worth the trouble. A twelve-year-old girl opines: "For what the turtles do, you didn't have to have the live ones." Her father looks at her, uncomprehending: "But the point is that they are real, that's the whole point."