In Can A Machine Learn Morality? Or, Why Hire a Hard-Hat Child-Labor Inspector? UK technology and new book writer Anthony Bennett introduces us to on the edge tech.
Anthony Bennett. Photograph: Anthony Bennett
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I was nine years old when the first nuclear accident was reported, and the American Space Program was set on a collision course with Black Sky. Like many of my generation I was enamoured with technology; my mother had warned me that I would one day own, from Grayswood, a “boulder”.
I was particularly impressed with home computers because, in my eyes, they had both sophistication and humanity, like humanity itself. In my childhood they lived in ordinary houses, we sometimes looked at them from afar through curtains and between doors, but when we noticed them it felt like another person was there. We imagined that we could see into the future, embrace it, and believe it was our own. We understood that it didn’t come to life by magic but by work and discipline.
In your early years, electronic technology mainly added mystery to the world. The subtle effects of radiation seemed more fascinating than the radiation itself, and the digital monochrome screen said something to the eye that a physical paper or blackboard could not do. Space exploration was thrilling and thrilling because it felt so possible. Even the most mundane of us felt like some world was at stake.
From the 1980s onwards, however, technology changed. Most technological objects were based on cold metal, and our visual cues would slowly change to digital backlighting, and soon, to full colour. Better design allowed for more human qualities; now anything with an electronic connection became a kind of performance. I started to be less impressed by what they might do, more interested in how they might change.
The relatively recent fusing of computer and human senses is the major reason that I still like technology. When humans and machines work together we often look much less ordinary than when we work alone. When in the future those who design technologies do the thinking, designing for everyone, or just for people who want to work in them, we might see more of what’s coming, because it’s not just new technology that’s going to emerge. Social movements and existing norms will be being changed too, and we can be sure that many working-class people won’t be to blame for any of it.
Anthony Bennett is an author, technologist and business consultant. He is chief operating officer of CultureGrid.
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Andrew Keen: can technology become our guru?
While we all agree that making technology honest about its values is the most fruitful and ethical way to make it in our hands, there’s deep debate about whether it could be trusted to do so.
Andrew Keen. Photograph: Dave Mirko
In his 2008 book The Cult of the Amateur, author Andrew Keen made the surprising claim that the internet, the invention of modern technologists, could be both our spiritual and ideological guide. He was the hippy-ish avatar of an emerging leftism that thinks creativity can be unleashed by collaboration. Its ideology, he argued, was more nebulous and difficult to articulate than the old one of technology technologists and programmers creating fabulous things. The left-wing old person would have understood, Keen argues, that technology creates many, many inequalities that are far more harmful than big inequalities from the 1950s.
In 2017, when he wrote Technology Wrecked Us, Keen returned to this topic and argued that the human beings who have misused the digital world were not necessarily the technologists who designed it, but the hackers and hobbyists who built its applications.
Keen’s argument suggests there is a way of working with technology that is most likely to produce good things, not only good intentions, and if we fail to do this it may be deeply problematic for both sides of the equation.