Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Why Technology Would Not Save Us

One does marvel at the technological progress that we have made over the last two centuries. It is all but natural to make this the new God - and expect technologies to appear to solve our problems. When we talk about an environmental apocalypse, it is common to refer to the first environmental conference in the world, which was convened at the end of Nineteenth century to deal with the seemingly intractable environmental problems of the cities - Horse Dung! The conference ended in a failure. Yet, in a few years, automobiles were everywhere and the problem completely disappeared. We believe that the technologies will indeed appear when the problems become urgent.

Yet, technological development is not a value-neutral process. It is dependent on the social power, and the agenda of the powerful. This is why we can do advanced robotics but may not have a cure for Ebola. This is exactly why technology can kill - and we know it does - and it is naive to keep an unquestioning faith on technology to bail us out.

This is why the discussions about the future should be more than the possibilities of technology. We may indeed make technological advance, but it is indeterminate whether those advances will help us or destroy us. The most urgent discussions about the future is about social power, things like whether the human race will be split into two (with genetic engineering and advanced healthcare, it already seems to be two different species) and whether that is a good thing, and not how an advanced gadget can change the world.

I know a lot of people who wants to make a dent in the universe and put their faith on lines of code to do so. They believe changing the universe is a value-neutral thing, and as long as there are profits, everything will be alright. However, past is not always a bad thing as it is painted to be. We, after all, survived and progressed from our neanderthal past, crafted advanced societies and triumphed over other species which are, individually speaking, far more powerful than us. We may take that achievement for granted, but value-neutral technology fetishism may undermine our most significant achievement, human society. 

So, here is my point - technology has been the engine of progress, but it has done so because we willed it. It is social imagination that drive technology, and it seems that in our blind love for technology, we have exited the business of social imagination, even the business of society itself. This is why technology may not save us when the moment comes, because our priorities have shifted and we are trying hard to forget our history.




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