There are a multitude of catastrophic scenarios we often imagine in our minds, theorize about in literature, and portray on television and in movies, of what the world may look like if society were to adopt some of the most controversial new technologies of today. Vivid images of dilapidated city skylines, indoctrinated masses, authoritarian “big brother” regimes, and retaliatory artificial intelligence, are not strangers to our mind. Despite these dystopian scenarios, I believe it is necessary that we do not fear these technologies, and instead adopt them with an optimistic mindset – and that doing so is vital for the future betterment of our livelihoods. Technologies that we largely fear right now, such as Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Blockchain, as well as a host of others, will vastly improve our society – to the extent that looking back we will deem our initial fears as completely unnecessary.
Technology has an extensive track record of making human lives on earth better. This is evident since human society is continuing today after millennia, despite all the attempts by our natural environment to end it. Our natural environment in which we live, although very beautiful, is an overwhelming oppressive force for hardship. The trials and tribulations it puts us through simply to survive are non trivial and very serious; from natural disasters, to disease, to having to feed everyone everyday, to the universal entropy set on by the progression of time, it seems a miracle to me that despite the odds seeming being against us as humans we have managed to make it this far to the year 2019 (as of the authoring of this post) without extinction. I think that feat of strength deserves a collective pat on the back at minimum. I believe that this success is by and large due to human invented technologies that have allowed us to manipulate the world we live in.
I would like to clarify that when I am referring to technology in my writing, I am not specifically using a definition that refers solely to the post-industrial technology that is common place today (i.e. smartphones, computing, internet, etc.), but rather I am using the definition from a more sociological point of view, defined as something among the lines of: The means by which humans adapt and modify their environment to go beyond natural limitations in order to meet their purposes and needs. Under this definition, everything from the first usage of the wheel by the ancient Mesopotamians, to the first usage of the automated Roomba vacuum cleaner in the modern day.
The list of improvements technology has brought to society is a long one. Agricultural technologies such as harvesting tools and irrigation becoming more efficient have allowed us to support larger populations utilizing less human labor and farming land. Advancements in medicine have allowed us to cure and prevent some of histories most deadly diseases, as well as extended the average humans lifespan greatly in the last century alone. Our communication has become more effective than ever due to the invention of telecommunications and the Internet Protocol – allowing for the immediate widespread dissemination of information, allowing for a more informed and educated population then ever before. Yet, despite all these improvements, it seems to me a common observable trend that whenever an emerging technology enters the forefront of implementation, widespread fear is spread among members of society – many believing the adoption of these new technologies will herald a dystopian outcome. These fears often then lead to public outcry and regulatory blockades at a governmental level, which slow down and sometimes completely halting these technologies from ever seeing their fullest potential for effecting positive change in society.
I do not mean to claim that these fears people have around new technologies are without warrant. I too have concerns around the implementation of many new technologies. I believe it is completely justified to be asking questions such as:
- Will the implementation of artificial intelligence in our workplaces take away our jobs?
- Will autonomous vehicles make our roads more dangerous to drive on?
- Will blockchain crash our financial systems?
- Will my privacy be completely lost to the hands of large tech companies?
- Will virtual reality become reality?
I’m sure you may have heard, wondered yourself, or can think of many similar questions to these regarding many of the new technologies we hear about. These all to me seem like very important questions to be asked, and ones that come from a genuine concern people have for their own well being. It goes without saying that people have the right to voice their concern about the risks that may come with implementing new technologies.
I do not believe that we should be focusing on the negative sides of the outcomes of these technologies. For example: artificial Intelligence, automation, and autonomous vehicles, all could replace jobs. However, this “loss” of jobs does not have to be a bad thing. These technologies allow us to reduce the amount of tedious and physically demanding work that humans must endure and replace that work with new opportunities (some of which we are not even aware of yet). They also allow us to reduce the joint workload that the average person must complete each week just to make ends meat. Blockchain technologies have the real potential to highly disrupt the banking, supply chain, and political world – but instead of chaos, what it has the potential to bring is greater transparency and accountability towards those in control of the power. I intend to highlight some more examples of the positive outcomes of many of these technologies in a future blog post in this series.
When I start to reflect more deeply on those questions posed above, I turn to how these technologies are understood by society and regulated by those in positions of power. Through proper education and governmental policies, we can embrace these technological benefits instead of denying them because of their potential flaws. As a member of the engineering industry, I believe I have a role to play in societies adoption, regulation, and education on technology – I hope that I can be useful in ushering in new technologies.
I suppose I can understand how one may want to be completely risk adverse, wanting to halt these technologies out right to reduce any sort of potential risk. I’ve heard this viewpoint justified by some saying things like “we already have enough technology”, “life is already easy enough”, “why risk what we have now be adding more?”. I believe that better is always possible for society, and if better exists, then we should pursue it. It would be doing us a great disservice – and frankly – an injustice, to limit what we are capable of for a temporary feeling of safety or security.
Throughout this series of blog posts, I hope to reassure you that the adoption of emerging technologies is necessary for our evolution as a society, and that fearing them is unnecessary.
Until next time – stay brave,
Currently Reading: “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari
Currently Listening to: “Hey, Ma” by Bon Iver
Currently Pondering: Methods for being more mindful throughout the day
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