For advocates of technology, the past few years have been filled with wonder and excitement at breakthroughs that have opened a world of possibilities for a dynamic, interconnected world. From IoT to blockchain to robotics, to the emergence of 5g networks, to artificial intelligence and the algorithmic life, the canvas is clearly being prepared for incredible innovation in the coming decade. As the Technorati steams forward into the future, however, it is worth pausing to ask ourselves whether the costs – and the obligations of wielding – this incredible power have been considered enough.
Many years ago, I visited an island with my wife. Accessible only by ferry, no vehicles were allowed, and roadways were populated with horse-drawn carriages. Stepping off the ferry, an elderly man shouted “Damn industrialists!” at the disembarking passengers. I scoffed at the time, choosing to dismiss his sentiments as the ramblings of an angry luddite.
In the past few months, I’ve asked myself if he may have had a point. Dystopian predictions of a society ruled by sentient computers (driven only by the relentless pursuit of efficiency) aside, the power of technology is incredible and it is real, as are it’s impacts to the world we live in today, impacts whose macroeconomic and societal disruption are only just beginning to be understood.
The immediate impacts to technology enthusiasts are easier to comprehend. The days of the “code jockey” content to tap away at her user stories are numbered, and in her place we expect to see the rise of the ethical programmer – the brilliant technologist capable of building complex systems, platforms, and machines, but is vigilant in understanding exactly how her work products will be used. She will be challenged by those predisposed to following orders, and those believing in absolute rules and principles that must apply to all regardless of circumstance. She must be steadfast in her commitment to building for good. She must continually recognize that for every breakthrough that enhances the quality of human life, there is one that destroys it. For the true power of technology lives not within technology itself, but how we, as its creator, choose to wield it.