The Wind Rises is considered to be Hayao Miyazaki’s last and final movie, which tells the story of Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. It is an insightful study of how a person can be torn between following one’s dream (in this case designing airplanes) and the possibility that this technology is used for destructive purposes. It can be argued that we have a similar situation with artificial intelligence: last but not least, we (speaking for engineers, scientists and executives who create and apply automation technology) are driven to bring our ideas and dreams into reality, but we can only try to make of them good and constructive use. Trying to do so is a tricky fault line, on which we experience the dynamics of our own personalities and the forces of society.
The story reminds me of the Greek myth of Daedalos, the archetype engineer and inventor, who believed that technology is morally neutral. The online portal shmoop writes hereto this: Back in the day, the gods did not like it when humans tried to act like them by overcoming their mortal limits. In ancient Greek culture, acting like a god was called "hubris", and it was often severely punished. Flying through the air definitely constituted hubris, since flight was supposed to be a strictly gods-only activity. Watching from the ground, shepherds and plowmen even mistake Daedalus and Icarus for gods, since mortals had never before achieved flight.
But Daedalus loves to invent things. What he doesn't love is thinking about the consequences of his inventions. For example, when Pasiphae (King Minos's wife), asks Daedalus to build her a cow suit so that she can seduce a bull, Daedalus does it without pausing to consider the possible outcomes. And guess what? Pasiphae's union with the bull results in the Minotaur, a horrible half-man, half-bull who feasts off human flesh. How's that for unforeseen consequences?
True, when Daedalus invents the wings made of wax, he briefly considers what might happen if Icarus should fly too close to the sea (damp wings) or the sun (melty wings). But these thoughts sure don't stop him from creating or using his feathered inventions. Ultimately, when Icarus falls from the heavens, Daedalus has no one to blame but himself, since he was the guy who created the devices that allowed the boy to fly so high in the first place.
Through this myth, we get a glimpse into the dark side of technology—a topic that's still very relevant today. From genetic modification to nuclear weapons, powerful technologies have powerful and potentially dangerous consequences. Just think about Jurassic Park and Minority Report and you'll know what we mean: humankind's curiosity and thirst for invention can lead to awful, scary things. And iPads.
Questions About Technology
- Are the benefits of new technology worth the risk of its possible unforeseen consequences? Ultimately, would humans be better off without technology?
- If you were the head of the government, how would you ensure that technology was only used for good? Is this possible?
- Should Daedalus and Icarus have stayed in the Labyrinth, instead of risking their lives? Why or why not?
- Can you think of other instances in the real world when a technology has been used for both good and evil?
Related TED talk: Data analyst Susan Etlinger calls for re-focusing on humanities in our educational systems. It is the humanities which teach us critical thinking skill; skill which are required more and more as we need to deal with large volumes of data and their application upon our lives. The Wind Rises might have been therefore Miyazaki’s visionary rebuke to the recent call of Japan’s education minister upon Japanese universities to close or downsize their humanities faculties in favor of more practical subjects like robotics and automotive engineering: the two stronghold of Japanese industry which he sees threatened by rising China.
What you can imagine: 8’ youtube documentary by Channel Criswell – great introduction to Miyazaki’s work. Summarizes the full length documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which is about the process of making Miyazaki’s last 2013 movie The Wind Rises. JD Thompson wants to understand Miyazaki’s decisions as a filmmaker to make his stories impactful and focuses on Miyazaki’s intuitive storyboard technique: he does not write a script for an entire movie, but lets the movie unfold itself from scene to scene. Movie making in the perception of Miyazaki and the creator of this short film is about showing what is possible, about opening the eyes of the audience for new possibilities.
The Essence of Humanity: 17’ Youtube documentary by Channel Criswell - Superb 2016 film about the Japanese animation director Miyazaki; summarizing five decades of masterpieces. Main ideas:
- Miyazaki understands the human condition like no other filmmaker; opposed to Disney productions, which he admires for their technical perfection, but considers them to be emotionally shallow, he uses the animation genre to portray the emotional profundity of his characters and make his audience understand the human condition better. His films are not directed at children only, but touch souls of all ages.
- Miyazaki does not differentiate like Western movie makers between good and evil, but draws worlds which and characters who entail both forces. He follows hereby an animistic Weltanschauung, which is in my opinion rooted in Japan’s monistic Shinto culture.
- Miyazaki is moreover an artist who works intuitively without storyboard. I recall therefore of an interview with a Polish novelist who quit her psychoanalytic training, because she did not want to know every corner of her mind, but explore intuitively as a writer. She draws a clear line between strategic and intuitive mindsets. Miyazaki would be in her perspective an intuitional artist.
- Concluding question: can anyone be meaningful creative by not trusting in the serendipity of intuition? Erich Fromm once wrote that “The quest for certainty (=strategy) blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers. Miyazaki has certainly unfolded his powers throughout his lifetime. Albeit not the power to control others, but the power to life up to his uttermost potential.