The advancement of new technology. Positive or negative?

The advancement of new technology has been taking place since the beginning of human history. From the invention of items like the spear and knifes made out of rocks and sticks to aid in the capturing and killing of animals for food, to items like the first printing press and the computer.

The advancement in technology has been exceptionally fast in the 20th and 21st century. With electronic technology and machines being produced and improved all the time, it was very likely that along with the positive aspects of these new advancements, people would also consider the negative aspects and look to criticise new technology.

Every day another company brings out something more advanced in an attempt to win the consumer war against another company. This consumerism is driving the rate of advancement faster and faster each year. The development of the IPhone by Apple is an example of this. Apple brought out a phone that could literally do everything and no other company in the mobile phone market could compare to it. Not only could you make phone calls and text, but you could also watch videos, take pictures and videos, listen to music, connect to the internet, you had app’s for almost anything. It’s the application market that really blew the other mobile phone companies out of the market at the time. You could download games, books, news, social networking sites in seconds. Of course this was a positive as people could use the phone to store data for work, education, entertainment. But the negative claims began as well, too expensive, quick battery power loss and could a device like this stop face to face communication all together to name just a few claims.
Technology will always have negative aspects because it depends on what the use of the technology is for and who is using it; Albert Einstein once said ‘Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal’.[1]

One of the biggest negative claims seen in past years was against the advancement of gaming technology. A game called Grand Theft Auto was developed and the game consisted of stealing cars, shooting and hurting random people to more offensive material like the prostitute characters. Computer games were given negative press after an incident in the USA with one teenage boy who shot at two police men and a dispatcher killing them in 2003. He had already been brought into the station on suspicion of driving a stolen car, which is something that happens within the game series. But he was not old enough to be playing the game in the first place. The media reported the incident in ways such as ‘Lawsuit: 'Grand Theft Auto' Led Teen to Kill’[2]. The media chose to blame the technology and the companies who created and sold the game "What has happened in Alabama is that four companies participated in the training of Devin ... to kill three men."[3] This sort of media attention can be seen to support the negative claims made by Jacques Ellul, a French sociologist. He viewed ‘technology as an irresistible, mysterious force’[4] he continued in calling it ‘menacing’[5] and ‘has an ability to change every aspect of life that it encounters’[6]. The press on this advancement in technology were trying to make out that the console and the game was changing and disrupting the young boys life, they quoted him to have said ‘’Life is a video game. You've got to die sometime."[7] Showing how this technology has changed the boy’s mental state and changed his view on life itself, that it’s nothing but a game. They make out that technology has taken over the boy and controlled him into committing such an act of violence. Ellul also described technology as ‘some kind of living breathing monster, out of control’[8] like it’s trying to distribute evil and change and scare people like it changed and persuaded Devin to kill those policemen. Although the argument to the negative claims that technology is evil and changes peoples mind set’s is that it’s one of the only cases like this to emerge from such technology. There hasn’t been an instant in the UK where a murder was blamed upon console or gaming technology.

Another critic of technology is Neil Postman. He writes in his book called Technopoly, that ‘technology in sum, is both friend and enemy’. He can see the benefits and how technology can be seen as a friend to humanity that ‘it makes life easier, cleaner and longer’[9]. He can accept it does humanity good. It’s almost a positive claim based on technology like medical advancements such as x-ray devices and medical drugs that help to lengthen life and help humanity. Medical advancements have meant that the average life expectancy of humanity has slowly been getting older. This is a very positive aspect of the advancement because we can improve health and lengthen our lives. But these medical advancements are mainly produced by companies, who then choose to monetise the advancement. Companies make millions out of these medical advancements, if it helps to lengthen or save people then places like the NHS will buy it at almost any cost. Moral responsibility is weakened by this greed for money; they have lost the objective in saving lives or making people healthy again. They are only creating advancements in technology in order to make a lot of money. Neil Postman also sees technology as undermining human processes as well. That technology creates ‘a culture without moral foundation’[10] and undermines social relations between humans. This can currently be seen with the argument over social networking sites on the internet. It was created for people to communicate and network, yet some people use it as their only form of communication with other people. This doesn’t necessarily help their social skills in the real and outside world away from the internet. People can become addicted and reliant on this technology and use it as their main form for creating social relations. It makes things like understanding facial expressions and body language hard to grasp. Again this is only if people rely on it, which only emerges in very few cases.

Professor Joseph Weizenbaum agreed that advancements in technology were leading to a loss of moral responsibility. He carries on in the tradition of ‘those who value humans and human society above all and who are alarmed by the degree to which society seems ready to accept technology and all its supposed benefits with little question’[11] He appears to warn society that we shouldn’t readily accept all the advancements of technology, but question them and look at the dangers of computers one day being so advanced they replace humans. He was the one to introduce ‘Alien intelligence’ a term to really argue that while ‘intelligent computers may appear to be by virtue of advances in artificial intelligence, they should never be involved in human affairs.’[12] His statement is a warning about computers, that they may be intelligent and rational but they have no feelings. They may only ever be cold and calculating. You cannot trust them with decisions that should be made by humans that possess emotions like compassion and caring. If a computer was given a task like that given to an army where it must kill a certain target, would there be more collateral damage, more civilians killed because the computer knows no feelings. He is warning of the severe dangers of trusting computers and technology and that they should not replace humans as they can never do the morally right thing.

Lewis Mumford, a social critic and distinguished historian of technology can be seen to have a similar argument to that of Weizenbaum. He believes the computer will cause the elimination of the human mind and spirit if advances in technology keep progressing at such a rate. For Lewis Mumford ‘the computer itself and its role in automation is just one more step along a road of constrained human choice.’[13] This negative claim is based on the fear that if we keep advancing and developing technology, that it will eventually have a mind of its own and turn against humanity and as such enslave it. This fear is what appears to drive the majority of the negative claims against the advancement in technology.
Lewis Mumford also suggests that even if computers do not rise against humanity one day but are making fundamentally human decisions that the outcome of these decisions could be catastrophic because ‘computers may be programmed to return only those results desired by the leaders and managers.’[14] This suggests that advanced technology in the wrong hands is a fear that society should be looking at carefully. Most of Mumford’s writing came before the Atomic bomb was created, but his fear is somewhat realised in this technology. This advancement in science and weaponry can be seen to have fallen into the wrong hands as the bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima and later over the city of Nagasaki killing almost 200,000 Japanese people who were mostly civilians. The bomb was the decision of life or death and in the United States hands, they desired death and so the bomb was detonated. Mumford’s fear and criticism wasn’t unjust or even dramatic in anyway. He had a fair criticism and his fear with the atomic bomb can be seen to have come true. Technology was controlled for power alone.

Norbet Wiener a mathematician and cybernetics specialist, appears to make positive claims about technology that include claims like ‘initially technological innovation may result in the loss of jobs but eventually more jobs are created than lost’[15] and that ‘his concerns were starting to be accepted by the business world.’[16] That while unemployment would come about with new technology that new career prospects would be created to deal and use the new technology. Employment in the long run would eventually rise when businesses starting to create the right jobs to go with the new technology. He still worries about the advance in technology and had a ‘deep concern about the possible social impact of his work.’[17] He also worried about the enslavement of humanity and worried his own work in the cybernetic field could impact on this. He viewed ‘automatic equipment as equivalent to slave labour’[18] machines were being created to do a job humans were doing for a much lower cost and means that ‘humans in competition with the mechanical slaves must accept economic conditions equivalent to theirs.’[19] If humans wanted to do the job machines are capable of doing then they must accept payment and working hours that are the same as the machine. This is essentially slave labour as machines never have to stop to eat or sleep like humans. Sweat shops in third world countries are currently in competition with machine run factories. These people are paid a pittance and are expected to work long and hard hours in an effort to cut costs for companies and make a bigger profit. This competition with machines means that essentially these sweat shops are like slave camps. The people work hard and get almost nothing for their work. They are treated like machines and once they cannot perform any more they are replaced without a moment’s thought. Although machines too have created new jobs such as IT technicians, robotic engineers, mechanic’s for cars and trains to name just a few. With each new advancement or invention of technology comes a new job prospect. The invention of the locomotive brought not only faster and easier travel to society but many new jobs with it. Drivers, technicians, ticket collectors and traffic controllers are just a few examples. The running of the technology and maintaining of it needs human input and so employment is created. Technology cannot run essentially without the input of a human. Whether it’s to direct the technology or write its software, a human must give the technology input for it to work, otherwise it will cease to exist.

Technology does not yet have a mind of its own, but that it what most of the negative claims are suggesting and are fearful of. The loss of tradition is also a fear that comes through on the majority of the negative claims. They can rarely see the positives of technology because they are living in fear of losing their heritage and giving it over to something that they fear could overrule humanity. They don’t look at the medical advancements that make them healthy, or the technology that was used to create the paper they write on and the pens they use to write their criticism upon. The rate of technological advancement is increasing with time, society is looking to create and develop easier ways to live and lengthen their lives. The internet is a massive source of information that millions of people use and depend on every day. It’s updated all the time from many places across the globe and is storing the history and heritage of the world that we live in.

Herbert Simon a Nobel prize winner, presents a more positive and optimistic technological visions ‘As we design new technology, as we make use of our knowledge about the world and the knowledge that we are gaining about ourselves, about our thinking processes, through research in Al and cognitive simulation, we will realise that we have to apply our technology in a way that keeps man’s peace with the universe in which he lives, instead of conceiving our technology as a weapon with which man can wage war on the rest of nature.’[20]
Technology is all about what you do with it, its humanity’s choice on whether the advancement of technology will be used for positive or negative outcomes.

Posted in Technology on July 25 2019 at 02:26 PM

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