Just as science and art have long debated the social consequences of their activities, (Blog 2/10/17), it’s time for technology, the Sixth Estate, to grapple with its responsibility. Not only are its innovations transforming society, but they are doing so faster than in the past, effecting both our daily lives and our economy.
In 2016 alone, SpaceX landed an unmanned rocket on a drone in the Atlantic. Uber put self-driving cars into operation in Pittsburgh. Microsoft created software that transcribes speech as fast and accurately as a humans. Amazon has made its first product delivery by drone. All these advances are impressive and will bring positive change to our lives. But there will be disruptions, too, says writer Brad Stone: Silicon Valley is “undermining our comfortable, Middle American way of life.” (“Silicon Valley’s New Reality Show,” by Brad Stone, Bloomberg Businessweek, 12/18/16-1/8/17, pg. 6.)
For example, the web and technology have given people like me a voice. Via my blog, I circulate my opinions around the globe. That’s a pretty big soap box. Anyone can share this capability and they have, for good or ill. During the 2016 US presidential election, so much false information was shared, it may have influenced the outcome Certainly, it awakened us to the phenomenon we now know as “fake news.” No one talked about fake news in 2012. Today it thrives like junk mail.
Companies like Amazon and Facebook are responsible for this proliferation. When they got into the habit of vacuuming up every irrelevant detail about their customers, they made that a vast array vulnerable to hackers and other criminal elements — not to mention the prying eyes of our government.
As Stone points out, technology brings good and bad effects. On the plus side, we have made huge advances in healthcare, transportation, and every branch of science. On the negative side, that same technology can create a Muslim registry in a heartbeat. To dot the “I” and cross the “t,” our new toys can either help or hurt us. How we use them is our choice. But to make good choices, we need standards that allow us to predict which pursuits will create a better world and which won’t. Complacency is no longer an option, and the Sixth Estate must lead the way.