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"Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them."

Dune by Frank Herbert

Red-Walking-LightI recall this quotation every time I wait at a traffic light.

Hong Kong people have this odd habit of standing at a traffic light until it gives permission to cross the road.

The road may be empty, there may not be a vehicle in sight; it matters not. They will stand and wait.

I admire their discipline. Their willingness to follow the rules, their willingness to obey the system, and wait for their turn. Drivers and pedestrians relying on the traffic light to protect each from the other.

On the other hand, it often seems to me a case of handing over the decision making to the machine. The machine orders them to wait. They obey.

A machine does what it has been programmed to do. It will make you wait the required time, you cross and it will repeat the loop.

A machine has no regard to reality. A traffic light doesn’t know if there’s any traffic. A traffic light can’t see the people waiting. It doesn’t know if the road is empty or blocked by a traffic jam.

Its mechanical simulation of reality has no space for any input that is reality.

I don’t believe people should do something just because they have been directed by a machine. If what they can see with their eyes, and their understanding of the situation indicate that the machine is mistaken, or acting in an inefficient way, then I believe people – as sentient capable beings – are morally bound to disregard the machine.



  1. i mostly ignore the traffic lights. as do many people i know. i only feel guilty about it when i see kids waiting for it to turn green :p

    • A Friend
    • Posted December 9, 2008 at 10:00 am
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    I see many people jaywalking and i see many jaywalkers who should wait their turn. Many of them need to rely on a machine as they can’t tell when it is safe (when there are no cars around) or when it is dangerous (one car speeding down at 100mph!!) to cross the road.

    For me it is balance, rely on the machine when in doubt, otherwise do as you please.

  2. They are not obeying the machine. They are obeying the law.

    You can say the same with speed limit signs, except they aren’t even machines, merely pieces of plastic with numbers and a red circle around them. No one would follow the speed limits had speed cameras not been invented.

    • zaineb
    • Posted December 10, 2008 at 10:19 pm
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    you’re right………..i agree……… Men are not machines…..

    they are animals…:P

    • Lil
    • Posted December 21, 2008 at 2:23 am
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    People like being institutionalized eh?

    I had this conversation with James today about the Old Testament. And he mentioned that the people of Israel wanted a King – even though God told them that the King would enslave them, but they still wanted one.

    And how the rigidity of obeying the rules boiled down to – in my opinion – meaningless legalism, since they follow for the sake of it, and sometimes by the end of it, I wonder do they really know why they are following these rules?

    It was an interesting discussion on the Old Testament – James knows his STUFF

    Anyway – I really enjoy reading your notes – I am like a silent STALKER


    Oh and I jaywalk all the time – not sure about you…. =)

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