The philosophy of technology

The philosophy of technology gives us a mental model to understand the uses of technology, its potential, influence, and limits.

What are we without the tools we use?

Using tools is our advantage over all species on earth. With them came farming, construction, and medicine. Today, technology touches every corner of our lives. Unfortunately, we have very little guidance in how to think about technology and the influence they have on us, society, and the environment.

A huge part of philosophy is asking the right question. As we continue to interact with technology on a daily basis, I sincerely hope we are being observant of our behavior when interacting with technology. Look at how much we consider normal today that barely 10 years ago was inconceivable including online dating, esports, and 10-minute grocery deliveries.

“People get technology today not because of its gadgets but because it connects their lives to the lives of countless friends and strangers” says Chris Skinner in Digital bank: strategies to launch or become a digital bank. “They don’t care how technology works, just as I don’t care how electricity works. I just like what it can do, and that’s how most see technology.”

Take for example, the internet. It gave us Wikipedia, however, also easy access to pornography. It was built and funded by the government to connect a network of universities in case of another war (Cold War). As with any tool, it can be used to help or hinder us. How do we better control these outcomes? Does it depend on the question we ask of it?

Philosophy is “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence”. Philosophers of technology spend their time thinking about these and other questions. Without getting too far into the academic circle-jerk, it gives us a mental model to work within when it comes to understanding the uses of technology, its potential, influence, and limits. There is a subsection that focuses on the ethical usage of technology and the decision making processes involved. An unfortunate truth is many of these decisions will happen with or without our input. Why? Access to this information can be caught in tight groups but we can help by becoming aware of what’s on the horizon and engaging early.

Let’s have a look at CRISPR-Cas9. This gene-editing protein gives us the ability to precisely modify our DNA sequence, allowing us to turn off and on specific gene expressions, add completely new ones, and more. The two researchers behind the discovery asked themselves whether they should make this knowledge public, and if so, how can they do it in controlled manner. The reason being, this technology allows us to completely rewrite the human genome as we see fit. We can remove health defects in babies or we can create custom spec babies. It doesn’t take too long where in the hands of an ethically questionable individual or group, this can turn into a nightmare if the proper safety measures are not implemented.

Let me leave you with some questions to think about until next time:

Can we build a global information system powered by artificial intelligence to make our world better?

With self-driving cars, who’s responsible in an accident?

How can we make the benefits of CRISPR available to everyone and keep cost reasonable?

Can we use data to improve the wellbeing of people and countries?

How much and how early should lessons on technology use be taught?

How can we use technology to speed up recovery from climate change and slow down our use of fossil fuels?