What’s wrong with technology is a question as old as civilization itself. Throughout human history, the development of technology has helped us adapt, organize, and mobilize. It has allowed us to control our environments, improve our health, protect us, expand our understanding of the cosmos, move us faster from A to B, and communicate information more and more efficiently.
But as tech has grown increasingly complex and intertwined with most aspects of our modern lives, so have the ethical dilemmas surrounding its applications.
In ancient Greece, Plato and Socrates worried that a new technology called writing would ruin human memory and disrupt the passage of knowledge from one generation to the next. Fast forward 2,500 years and you could substitute ‘writing’ with ‘smart phones’ and not miss a beat.
But the Greek philosophers could probably not have anticipated the splitting of the atom, geoengineering, or predictive algorithms.
The truth is, technology can be marvelous if it’s used responsibly, and disastrous if it’s not. And since its exponential explosion after the Industrial Revolution, we have been walking a thin line between these two outcomes. If we are to emerge from a recent past where we witnessed both the discovery of penicillin and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, then the ethical design and application of new technologies will be imperative. These ethics boil down to inclusion, equity, and accessibility, and permeate all aspects of tech, from AI and data collection to haptic wearables to robot medical staff to tech culture itself.
No one wants to live in a technocracy, which is why it’s vital that innovation deserts are eliminated. Similar to food deserts — marginalized, poorer communities where fresh and healthy produce is inaccessible — innovation deserts are communities without access to the technology and education necessary for those living there to get involved in the tech/start-up ecosystem and contribute their voices and ideas to the conversation. Organizations like Change Catalyst, founded and led by Melinda Briana Epler, are committed to strive for equity by working with community leaders and governments to create inclusive and diverse tech/startup ecosystems.
There are so many initiatives and technologies which highlight how designing with inclusion in mind leads to real innovation . From making websites more streamlined and user-friendly for the elderly, to creating wearable haptic devices with the blind community to allow vision impaired to run marathons, to designing socially assistive robots that help people with health problems like alzheimers and traumatic brain injuries, as studied and executed by Prof. Maja Matarić. All are great examples of working from the edge, for the marginalized, to make the whole that much better.
Another contemporary edge concept is hacking. While the word “hacker” elicits images of sinister, bad actors coding away to sew chaos and exploit systems, individuals like Dr. Tim Summers are working to flip this stereotype and show how the hacker mindset may actually help us become more creative and prepared to solve the vexing problems of today and tomorrow.
Underpinning these ethics is our collective humanity, with all our flaws and fears and ingenuity and emotion. So it’s also important to understand that data collection and algorithms, while they have been — and will — be so fundamental to our understanding of everything from climate change to medical science, are not free of human biases. No technology is free of human bias. These things we are creating are only as good as the people creating them, which is why we must be aware of how we are creating and using them, and not to lose the ability to choose, or to think critically, and not let the ‘suggested for you’ category on Netflix or the navigation on Google maps erode our ability to see the road ahead or diminish our capacity for insight and creativity.
So while “What’s Wrong With Technology?” is a question as old as civilization, it is also one that continues to evolve as humanity evolves. And like all the other issues examined at www/, it’s by bringing people together across industries and breaking down silos that we can make sure we’re asking the right questions and cultivating a space where collaboration catalyzes positive change and guides us in the right direction.
What’s Wrong With Tech?
During www/Tech, an online diagnostic panel discussion and Q&A, we brought different perspectives from people across the industry together, to understand the underlying reasons of the challenges we face in the industry and discuss potential solutions, and to cultivate a space where collaboration catalyzes positive change and guides us in the right direction.
> Melinda Briana Epler | Founder & CEO of Change Catalyst
> Dr. Tim Summers | CEO of Summers & Company / Founder of WikiBreach / Executive Director of Third Horizon Initiatives within the University Technology Office at Arizona State University
> Prof. Maja Matarić | Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, Neuroscience, and Pediatrics Interim Vice President of Research at USC, and Founding Director of the USC Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center
To read more, visit the www/ website