Pushing Back on Pervasive Technology
Innovators and leaders must consider how new technology will be monitored to prevent against potential harmful and irreversible effects.
Nothing illustrates our need to think differently about how we manage technology better than Facebook. Recent criticism in the media reflects not only a condemnation of the company’s actions, but a powerful backlash against tech as a whole. Indeed, beyond the immediate issues raised around data privacy and security, deeper investigations into Facebook’s practices illustrate the dangers inherent in our uncritical acceptance of and unbridled addiction to technology.
Technology, which has made our lives incomparably better in numerous ways, now constitutes one of our biggest threats. It threatens not only our physical, but our mental well-being. It forces us to confront some of the most important questions facing the human condition: What is the extent and the depth to which we are willing to allow technology to intrude into our lives? In other words, how pervasive and invasive are we willing to let technology be? Because we can do something, does that mean we ought to do it? Such questions are profoundly ethical and moral, for they force us to confront the basic issue: “Who is to control whom?”
In brief, the supreme challenges facing us are not technical but ethical. They are embodied in the justifications we give for allowing a technology to proceed in the first place, let alone the ethical ends it’s intended to serve. Technology is never neutral; it always reflects the biases and purposes of its creators. For example, efforts are underway to build robots that can not only read but also respond to our emotions. Cutting-edge technology and advances in human-machine interactions may mean that soon many people will feel more comfortable talking to an AI-enhanced robot about their deepest feelings and emotional states than to a fellow human being. But again, just because something can be done, is it ethical to do it? The question is: How will it affect human relationships in general?
Measuring Pervasiveness and Invasiveness in Technology
Pervasiveness and invasiveness are two of the primary dimensions that are critical in the evaluation and ranking of the threats posed by various technologies. Facebook, for example, scores high on both. It’s pervasive with regard to its effects on society as a whole, and it has the ability to spread and serve as a platform for fake news, misinformation, and interference in elections by nefarious foreign governments.