Monday, March 27

‘Matrix’: 22 years later, we are connected

The first installment of Matrix, of the sisters – then brothers – Wachowski, dates from 1999 and was revolutionary. The machines had taken control of the humans to use them as a power source for Artificial Intelligence and their devices, and had them tricked into a virtual world, the Matrix. 22 years later, in the fourth installment, Matrix Resurrections, the question arises as to whether this is not a huge video game. Lana Wachowski comes forward like this once again. Life is not a video game, but there can be life in video games. But these four long decades not only coincide with the gender transition of the Wachowski (which, except for some wink, lacks translation in the film, with a fairly traditional love story between Neo and Trinity, but, of course, global audiences impose its rules) but it is we, almost all of us, who have changed because now we are almost permanently connected, immersed in the incipient but powerful Artificial Intelligence, and we live in Plato’s caverns, a myth that has so inspired this series of films.

In 1999 there were 248 million people connected to the Internet (4.1% of the world’s population). In 2021, we are 5,168 million (65.4% of the world, although with important gaps), while the laying of fiber optics advances and several large companies install thousands of mini-satellites for a truly global network. It is so important that we are connected through the mobile that less and less is used to call and more for many other tasks, including active surveillance, and often unconsciously passive. In 1999, in those years of the boom of these telephones, there were around 400 million mobile phones in use and these were not smartphones connected to the Internet (the first, Apple’s iPhone1, dates from 2007). In 2021 there are 8,300 million mobile phones in the world (more than a third of them, 3,000 million, smartphones), that is, more than people, and almost twice as many mobile devices in total. We are immersed in social networks that reinforce the feeling of platonic caverns, or, as we prefer to call them now, echo chambers. We are connected to each other and increasingly to things and these to each other (the IoT or Internet of Things and the Internet of Everything). What was a vision in the first Matrix It is now almost a reality, and it will be even more so with the development of that virtual and augmented reality, that gigantic video game, which has been baptized in advance as Metaverse. All those things are in Matrix Resurrections, albeit discreetly. The characters do not enter and leave the matrix to the real world by fixed lines, and the two worlds are permanently connected wirelessly by more than basic mobiles (as in the first installment).

In these 20 years we have started –because we are just beginning– to live with the development of the so-called Artificial Intelligence, which all, companies around the world, including companies emerging economies, and citizens, we are adopting at a great speed, almost unconsciously because we already carry it even in our pockets with our smartphones. Which, together with advances in neurosciences, can generate new perceptions of reality and new realities and unrealities.

A basic question that raises Matrix Resurrections is the question of whether we will not be or want to be all, deep down, hackers, if we are in a great video game, in a great panopticon (the jail that Jeremy Bentham devised, whose design allows a guardian to observe the totality of its interior from a single point), even for some human fighters who are in the real world. As a comment about the film rightly said in WiredHackers – and those are the resistant ones in the series of these films – do not yet have superpowers in our reality. But as networked computers penetrate more into our lives and physical objects – cars, household devices, and electrical grids or otherwise – the ability to control those computer systems becomes a skill that can alter the real world. Power is not only of large companies or States. It is also one of the prized hackers.

In Matrix The “architect” of the system explained that the first programs failed miserably, since they had eliminated the conflict in virtual relationships between humans, when the conflict is part of the human being, of humanity (even, in Matrix Resurrections, of the machines that end up facing each other). But you have to know how to manage it. And although in Matrix Resurrections the Oracle has not been reproduced, the true oracle is Lana Wachowski, who must already see that this series, despite its new touches of humor and inventiveness, is out of print. Because reality is overtaking it in many ways. If in 22 years we have changed what we have changed, how will we transform ourselves in two more decades? There are “architects” trying to design it.