AI, social media, genetic engineering, self-driving cars – you name it. Every tech attracts both its boosters and scaremongers. One of my favorite observers of technology published excellent advice on how to handle the noise that arises from both camps.
Remember when the Internet was going to usher in a brave new world where everyone would have unlimited access to news and information, and could communicate with anyone? Well, we are totally up to date on what are friends and family are doing but newspapers and journalism are in the tank.
Or, remember when AI – artificial intelligence – was going to help doctors diagnose cancer? Maybe…now it will take all our jobs and create a huge permanent underclass. How about when decoding the genetic code was going to introduce a new era of health and medicine? Now we are going to make designer babies.
Technology thrills and seduces us. Technology terrifies us. Phrases like “two edge sword” or “Yin and Yang” are tossed around so regularly it makes our heads spin. How does an ordinary person deal with avalanche of new technologies and the spin they engender? David Pogue, a well-known technology author and commentator published his last column for Scientific American at the end of last year with some sage advice on how to handle the deluge.
Here are just two of his observations:
“Utopia never arrives. So much tech promises to make the world a better place. Social media will make us a harmonious global family! Self-driving cars will save lives! The Internet will give everyone a voice, democratizing the whole world! Alas, the law of unintended consequences means all those utopias never seem to arrive (emphasis mine). Social media has turned into a breeding ground for hate-mongers. Self-driving cars may destroy insurance companies and ride-sharing outfits. And the Internet is becoming more cesspool than community pool.
Doomsday never arrives, either. On the other hand, we tend to over predict the negative effects of new technologies, too. Every generation has its “that’s gonna rot your brain” technology. My grandparents were told to quit sitting so long in front of that infernal radio. For me, it was the television. For our kids, it’s the smartphone. These technologies certainly change us, but that doesn’t mean they actually make us worse—and they’ve never actually brought the end of the world. Somehow we muddle through (emphasis again, is mine).”
Next time you hear a siren song or an alarmist cry for a new tech recall these words to the wise: don’t forget the impact of unintended consequences and don’t over estimate the potential negative effects or under estimate our ability to muddle through.