Our replacements or our servants?


This week I went to the cinema to see an animation of a television program broadcast fifty years ago, with the original soundtrack. Appropriately the main theme of Doctor Who Power of the Daleks is rebirth, featuring the first time that the lead actor was replaced. Nobody then predicted that the show would still be around in 2016. The BBC destroyed the original production, along with a heap of television programs, in the 1960s and 1970s, not foreseeing videos let alone digital television, multiple digital channels and internet streaming. Around the same time many of Britain’s railways were dismantled, because everyone thought the industry was finished but passenger numbers are now at their highest levels. This year the failures of various opinion polls demonstrate that the future remains gloriously unpredictable.

Science fiction writers possess a mandate to speculate. David Whittaker, the writer of Power of the Daleks, depicts a future colony where people use corded phones and discuss the advantages of using advanced technology, the Daleks, to boost productivity. Our world has already seen machines replace humans in many industries. In 1966 anyone making a train journey had to buy a ticket from a person and have it checked, at least once, by another person. Today tickets can be purchased on a mobile phone and checking, if done at all, may be by electronic barrier. We have automated transit systems and mass produced driver-less cars are being discussed. The cost of these developments is the loss of jobs. Think about a future with no taxi drivers, couriers or driving instructors? How will these people react and what will happen to them?

Power of the Daleks ends with a message of hope. A new governor and a leading rebel join forces to rebuild a damaged civilization.

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