Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2 Can Technology Destroy Us by Geoff Livingston

Can Technology Destroy Us

As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn't destroy or evolve societies, our use of these tools does.

Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, others are dystopian. Many like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between the two. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.

Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do we always forget the lessons of the past?

I know in the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asigemov's robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.

But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.

In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. In turn, over the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.

I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.

Because that's who we are, at least right now. I really believe that generally a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.

Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other and other nations to create the most prosperity and status.

Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It's not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.

Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.

Just this week we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?

So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive, in my opinion. What about yours?

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A former journalist, Geoff continues to write, and has authored four books. Most recently he published his first novel Exodus in 2013, co-authored Marketing in the Round, and wrote the social media primer Welcome to the Fifth Estate. You can follow him on Twitter at @geoffliving.

2 comments:

  1. I think it's a worthwhile discussion as well. Technology can do great things. It also can do awful things. The societal and economic impact is an interesting discussion point, too. It's easy to get excited about the latest and greatest tech gadget such as the contact lenses that can read glucose levels. It's just as easy to forget that there always will be players who seek power, fame, and financial gain. I'd probably use Dune and Flowers for Algernon as literary examples in such a discussion.

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  2. And we always adapt blindly. I love my iphone, but I didn't think Google would use my Chrome data to figure out that I would buy ice cream every week at Ben&Jerry's Toys have consequences.

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