Noah Ruede – Reading Response 2/27/13

Personally, I feel that to largely do away with technological advancement is nothing more than defeatism.  To illustrate this point, it’s important to ask ourselves why technology has advanced throughout the course of human history.  The driving force is our collective needs and problems.  Without them, there would be no incentive to continue developing our technology.

We live in a very imperfect world.  Think of the unimaginable amount of suffering that millions of people still endure to this day.  Hypothetically, how might we solve this problem?  Sure, much of the issue lies in legislative issues and in simple human nature, but the other half of the equation lies in the advancement of technologies which make the tools to fight the problem more efficient, accessible and economically viable.

Perhaps the issue of global human suffering is a bit extreme.  Let’s use  information technology, featured heavily in some of the readings, as an example.  Before cell phones, in order to reach someone we’d need access to a landline, we’d need to know which number would reach the appropriate person, and that person would need to be available.  Before the telephone, telegraphs were the only means to communicate quickly over long distances, albeit far less efficiently.  The technological advancements that solved these issues have made our society and economies immeasurably more efficient, freeing up manpower to focus on other issues.

As for the issue of complexity, it is certainly true that the more technologies (especially information technologies) are in use, the greater the potential for complexity.  But one important thing to note is that it takes a great amount of time for society to find the appropriate place for any new technology- decades or more.  Things are bound to get more complex before they’re simplified.  And even so, for every technology which stands the test of time in it’s relevance and use, the benefits objectively outweigh the complications.

Finally, in discussing the limit of technology, one must acknowledge that we can do no more than guess as to where technology will wind up in five years, let alone in dozens or hundreds of years.  Setting that very important fact aside, many historians, futurists and other academics believe that the ultimate destination of technology is infallible artificial intelligence.  Some might argue that if humanity isn’t wiped out by then, this outcome is inevitable.  This scenario would mean that whatever possible problems might emerge from that point on would immediately be solved with an optimal solution.  Theoretically, nobody would really ever need to do anything they didn’t want to anymore.  There would be no problems for humans to solve, and as such, no further need for technological advancement.

Related to this concept is the notion that in this scenario, we would be controlled by technology.  I would argue that if that is indeed the case, then we are already in fact being controlled by technology.  It’s the age-old issue of who advances what: does the technology control us, ie it fills our needs and leaves us with a different set of problems to solve with new technology; or conversely, do we decide first what we need and then generate technology to solve it?  It’s the chicken or the egg.  In any case, this is an issue that is as relevant now as it ever will be in the future.

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