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Opinion: Technology is a huge threat to humankind; this means you, Silicon Valley

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image Apple’s iPhones were all the talk this past week–but are we taking technology too far? (Mercury News illustration)

Technology, which has made our lives incomparably better, is now one of the greatest threats facing humankind.

All of the marvelous gadgets we’ve invented are not only thoroughly reinventing us, but they are doing it in ways that give us no idea of their full impacts. In short, we are undergoing a transformation/revolution that affects every aspect of our being — our brains, bodies, institutions, the entire world.

It’s nothing less than The Revolution of Everything.

For instance, MIT engineers have recently developed naturally conductive gold leaf that can be placed directly on our skins so that we can thereby communicate seamlessly with all of our wonderful devices. Our bodies become the screens by which we communicate, if that’s what we truly do any longer.

It’s not enough that we are already overly attached — worse still, addicted — to an overwhelming panoply of devices. No, our entire bodies will literally be “on” all the time. Given the intense coupling between humans and machines, if we can even distinguish between them any longer, we have truly become cyborgs.

Most disturbing is the underlying mindset that is responsible for the total transformation/revolution that is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. I call it The Technological Mindset. At its root is the core belief that technology is the solution to all our problems, including those caused by technology itself.


 

Even more troubling is the belief that the sooner humans are replaced by robots, the better everything will be. Humans are thus devalued as never before.

Because I’m so critical, I need to make perfectly clear that as someone with a PhD in engineering science, I am not instinctively hostile to technology. I am certainly not calling for its elimination. The idea that our lives would somehow be better if we got rid of all technology is not only preposterous but completely nonsensical.

Instead, before new technologies are unleashed on the world, I’m calling for far greater assessments of their social impacts.

I’m also calling for systemic audits. It is not enough to audit each technology as if it were independent of the others. Technologies are highly interactive and interdependent. As a result, they must be evaluated interdependently as a whole.

Before any new technology is unleashed, a serious audit of its social impacts, both negative and positive, needs to be conducted by panels made up of technologists, parents, social scientists, teachers, children and others.

This is the prime ethic to which all technologies need to be subject. A technology should be adopted if and only if it continues to pass the most severe social impact audits we can muster. In other words, the burden is squarely on technologists to justify their creations and to ensure that the negative impacts are given serious thought and are under control.

The assertion is often made that humans will adapt to technology because they always have. But why should it be the case that humans should always be the ones to adapt, especially in cases where technology leads to harm or where large numbers of people are displaced?

I cannot emphasize enough that before any new technology is unleashed, it must be subject to the most rigorous audits of its human and social impacts, both negative and positive. And, it must continue to pass on-going audits as it impacts become clearer.

The Ethical Management of Technology is more important and imperative than ever.

Dr. Ian I. Mitroff, of Oakland, is an author and academic widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of crisis management. He is president and founder of Mitroff Crisis Management. He wrote this for The Mercury News.

 

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