Tech Utopia vs. Dystopia 3

In part three of this four-part series on technological-utopianism, Hannah will discuss the most up to date philosophies around technology and what the use of technology is seen as now.

Tech Utopia vs. Dystopia 3


In part three of this four-part series on technological-utopianism, Hannah will discuss the most up to date philosophies around technology and what the use of technology is seen as now. To read part one of this series, click here.

 

WHAT IS THE PHILOSOPHY NOW?

Most modern societies and their communities share the belief in a tech-utopia. This is often a structured smart city, using the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect communication and transport systems, as well as organising the lives of individual inhabitants. People who don’t identify with dreams of a tech-utopia will accept various technological philosophies passively - by using mobile phones, email and online banking to make their lives easier, while still viewing technology with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Ideas of tech-utopia apply to both left and right wing thinkers, for the authoritarian and democratic nations, capitalist, communist and everyone else; the commonality is a world improved by technological advancement.

Whichever side of the fence people choose to sit, movement towards a tech-utopia will not be slowing down. The World Economic Forum has categorised these changes into five areas:

  • The Power of Networks – This is the power to quickly connect groups of people and give power to them, for example during the Arab Spring, which forced changes to governments.
  • The Automated Economy – A possible cause of tech-dystopia, the automation of more and more jobs, especially through AI, will lead to what some are labelling ‘The Second Industrial Revolution’ (although most people already describe our current state of technology as the forth industrial revolution).
  • The Sharing Revolution – Optimistically described as the rise of anti-capitalism, the internet has given businesses the ability to share ideas and products cheaply, as well as people sharing products rather than owning them, and limiting the consumption of items people don’t really need.
  • The Robot Revolution – Discussion of driverless cars has been done to death, but similar technologies mean that many more things, from coffee makers to delivery-drones will replace the mechanical and human versions.
  • Alternate Currencies – For a long time, a limited number of currencies have monopolised financial markets, giving complete power to the governments that control them. New digital currencies were not taken seriously at first but are now the markets are starting to take notice. While there are pros and cons to digital currencies, they look set to be big points for discussion for the foreseeable future. Currencies like Bitcoin promise to bring freedom and investment opportunities for people, changing the way that money is used forever.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF TECHNOLOGY?

Technology is designed to free us, but it has the potential to enslave us. This isn’t a warning about Terminators coming to crush humanity, but an affirmation that in the same way a hammer can build a wall or knock it down, technology and the internet are only as good or bad as the users.

Through technologies linked to the internet, good and evil are both magnified: Messenger services can arrange community groups and peaceful protests, but they’ve also been used to orchestrate attacks by terrorist organisations. Social media can help to spread new ideas about political and social change, but if troll-farms are involved, the same media channels can throw major elections.

Similarly, the overall use of technology has good and bad points. While we can use technology to order goods, communicate, learn and improve work, we are also constantly distracted by text messages, updates, emails and calls and kept awake by the light from screens; so the trade-off for increased productivity, may be a loss of being human.

Likewise, responsibility is essential when companies operate within the online sphere as handling personal data and implementing products used by a mass audience, means the potential for misuse. Despite recent theatrics around the data breach from Facebook / Cambridge Analytica, the ICO are threatening to fine them £479m, following another fine of £500k, showing the use of omnipresent technology has problems, and the world is waking up to those.

There is no single answer as to the question ‘what is the purpose of technology?’, as the purpose is not just to make life better, perspectives can alter and the answer may be anything from ‘to entertain’ or ‘to control society’; so the question should be ‘how can technology benefit us all?’.

Hearing the word technology now, we picture an image of some electronic gadget, which if useful, is actually just a tool. Historically, a rock would have been viewed as a useful tool and an axe-head mind-blowing. Later on, a saw would have seemed like an advanced tool, whereas now technology like calculators and cassette decks seem archaic.

What this illustrates, is that technology is only useful if it provides the right tool for the job at hand, and at the right time. At present, digital technology, AI and the IoT all seem like the future, which they are, but without retrospect they seem perfect, which they are not.

 

In part four of her series on tech utopianism, Hannah will conclude with a discussion around the risks of accelerating too quickly into the future of technology and the far-reaching consequences.

If you have not already seen the full series, start with part one here.

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