No discussion of technology at this time of year would be complete without mention of scary technology. Nuclear weapons are the scariest of all; and Albert Einstein spoke about them as follows:
“My part in producing the atomic bomb consisted in a single act: I signed a letter to President Roosevelt, pressing the need for experiments on a larger scale in order to explore the possibilities for the production of an atomic bomb.”
“I was fully aware of the terrible danger to mankind in case these attempts succeeded. But the likelihood that the Germans were working on the same problem with a chance of succeeding forced me to this step. I could do nothing else although I have always been a convinced pacifist. To my mind, to kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder.”
Communication technology can be used to help people – or to incite people to harm others. Disease can be spread intentionally – and perhaps even invented for the purpose of spreading and engaging in genocide. Evidence is growing – and I believe present – that the technology of smokestacks and internal combustion engines (and beef consumption, for there is more damage to the environment from cattle waste than from cars) is warming our planet to the point of no return from destruction.
How do we use technology only for good – or even primarily for good? What technologies scare you the most? What aspects of technology gives you pause?
There were a number of responses to the post about technology and ethics. I know that these are longer than our normal posts, but they are so good, I wanted to share them with you (below)! BRAVO and THANK YOU to all who responded!!!!
This is a complicated set of questions and I have written extensively about the ethical aspects of technology in my various essays. I believe to truly contend with the topics you are raising, you need to ask even more fundamental questions about what it means to be human.
I believe that we in the industrialized world have taken far too anthropocentric a view on what qualifies as human – by which we apparently mean those who are allowed to have a voice and whom we recognize as being sentient.
Simultaneously, we have also deprived too many non-industrialized humans of the voice they already have, often because we refuse to acknowledge the merits of belief systems that do not enshrine the scientist interpretation of material reality.
Until we have a global recognition of the interconnected fabric of existence in our universe we will have difficulty threading these ethical questions adequately. In other words, many of the fundamental assumptions embedded in those questions you have raised are flawed and thus any intellectual system predicated upon this incomplete information cannot provide the answers that we seek.
We must go back to the drawing board and start again. Fortunately, we are completely able to do this at any time, and I believe a significant portion of humanity is doing so even as we speak.
This really gets to the core of the issue. Assuming that lobbyists representing special interests help write the laws and that Congressmen and Senators move back and forth between lawmaking and private sector jobs which happens regularly, we have a fixed game with little accountability.
Unless the money is taken out of the equation which seems unlikely, I see no way to change the game from money before people and planet or technology being used to benefit humankind rather than for the few at the expense of the many.
Medical care is a good example where technology serves those who can afford it and the rest are left to try and keep themselves healthy. Will we get single payer that could benefit everyone or something that will benefit the pharmaceutical companies?
Technology should serve people and the planet but that is not the way the world presently works. Yes some technology is certainly beneficial and changes are underway like keeping the internet free.
I look forward to reading the other answers. For me, it’s a very difficult challenge. A great example is the current flu emergency as declared by Obama which benefits Big Pharma to the tune of billions with the CDC as cheerleader for everyone getting vaccinated without proof its as serious as they say it is. Orwellean… Check out my post on NPD for more details.
I would love to see the creation of an insurance company that provided premium reductions for preventative pro active policyholders who ate good diets, exercised regularly, meditated, did yoga, etc..used complimentary and preventative medicine as a first treatment and gave premiums back if they were not used. This would be a game changer.
Technology and ethics: an increasingly troubling set of concerns. We have expanding abilities to challenge the status quo of human beings in ways that can be amazing, but also frightening and horrific. Cloning, stem cell therapy, genetic engineering are ready examples.
Who decides? On what basis are decisions made? What kind of accountability and oversight is needed to assure ethical outcomes? Whose ethics form the basis for the answers to these questions?
It’s clear that technology can be used for good or ill. How do you propose to address this paradox? What kinds of guidelines would you suggest if you were suddenly charged with running things?
Please let me hear from you on this so that I can share the answers.
Have human beings kept up with the technology that we have invented? I must admit that I couldn’t successfully detail for you how most things work besides a general description. Carl Sagan said:
“We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”
Many of us learn enough about a given technology to use the features that we most want, but never learning how to use many other features. My new iMac is a great example of available technology that I’m confident that I have not learned. I want to spend time on the tutorials, but I never seem to make that time.
How do we develop a working relationship with technology so that we can feel comfortable understanding what we are using? Does this problem have a solution – or are we doomed to experience what Sagan predicts?
How would you describe your relationship to technology? Can’t live with it and can’t live without it? Hate it? Love it? Indifferent and resigned to it? Heidi and Alvin Toffler famously said in their book, “Future Shock,” that “Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.”
I often hear people complaining about the time that technology requires – accompanying by an expressed longing (sincere or not) for a simpler time when there were more limited options for technology.
How tied are you to email? To your PDA? Your DVR? Your HBO? Your mobile phone? Texting? Voice recognition? Google and / or other search engines?
How do you feel about technologies’ increasingly begatting new technologies? Is your life richer or poorer as a net result of technological advances over the last ten years? (Remember, Google is barely ten years old).