Technology as a Neutral Amplifier

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Principles Series
Last Edit
Apr 3, 2022 01:47 PM
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By itself, new technology doesn’t provide any specific good or harm. It is, in effect, a “gray” force on the world. Almost any technology an be used for good or for ill. This is important to keep in mind when thinking about both the present and the future.
A past example is atomic capabilities. Aside from two bombs dropped, these were largely used for good to provide the world with more energy. But a much different outcome was possible as it also greatly amplified our ability to destroy. The technology was a neutral good, although it would obviously amplify either our creation or our destruction. It was and is what we choose to do with it that matters.
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This delineation isn’t always that black and white though. Take social media. Given what we’ve said about culture and distributed systems in the past, it’s possible that social media will be a more impactful technology than nuclear fission. But where is the angel and the devil in this case? It’s unclear.
The standard take would be that the “good” of social media is building genuine connections, which seems reasonable. We do now have an unparalleled ability to stay in touch across distance and with more people than ever.
Yet we have several options to choose from when it comes to the “bad”. Is it the increased hostility we have now? Is it the filter bubbles we create? Is it the manipulation by state and non-state actors gaming the system? Is it the time we spend staring at our screens instead of the person across from us? Is it the alarming rise in teen suicide and self-harm? Is it how progressively dumber our political discourse has become since Facebook et al launched?
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There’s a reason I treat my time on social media as a vice and set strategic goals to keep it in check. Social media may, one day, be a net benefit for society. Right now though, it’s pretty clearly on the wrong side of the equation.