14. “The machine should be eliminated…now that it has served its purpose of alerting us to the dangers of machine control”

William Burroughs

It seems there’s no stopping technology, even on the island. It may only be a mid-sized water treatment plant but it’s already changed my rooftop view forever (albeit the pig slaughterhouse is far from obscured – nor will the prefab structure come close to muffling the screams of our porcine neighbours as they realise they’re about to serve their purpose). You probably read about Google’s steady acquisition of much of the lethal/life-extending robot technology being developed in the West. They certainly have the funds required to populate our future visions. But are their motives as pure as Hong Kong water authority’s?

Reading the very first recorded interview William Burroughs ever gave, courtesy of the peerless Beat Scene, you are first struck by the unforgiving wit of the artist as a youngish man. Gregory Corso asks, ‘What kind of advice you got for politicians?’ to which the acid-tongued Burroughs replies, ‘Tell the truth once and for all and shut up forever.’

But it’s his unforgiving attitude towards the boffins that really sends a chill down the CNS. For them he has the same fate in mind that those unfortunate pigs meet every day. His idea, worth repeating, is that the unblinking ‘machine’ that technology represents cannot be tamed; instead it must be destroyed, along with the ‘reality-addict’ scientists who invent and then oil the cogs. ‘The whole point is,’ Old Bill tells Ginsberg, ‘…the machine should be eliminated. Now that it has served its purpose of alerting us to the dangers of machine control.’

Burroughs envisions a world in which free thinkers become unacceptable to those in control of an increasingly streamlined society. As we know, nothing, once invented – not even nightmarish robot dogs – can be uninvented. Shelve something mind-blowingly efficient as a bad idea and you risk being seen as counter-evolutionary. Science, in his view, is a conspiracy to impose a single, true universe on us at the expense of all others.  Therefore our only option, Burroughs claims, is the kind of revolutionary mining of our chosen path that points to the radicalism that may lie ahead. Google’s quirky motto ‘Don’t be Evil’ might strain to make the shotgun-toting Burroughs seems like the bad guy but I’m happy to listen to both sides, being one of those pesky inefficient, indecisive humans that will no doubt be mauled by a mechanical pig shortly after falling in love with his OS. In the meantime, up on the roof, I can’t help wishing the livestock sounded a little less human.