Eternal Vigilance of the Technological Mind

In his commentary, Jeff Douthwaite does advocate for the informed use of technology to solve social problems while still recognizing potential limitations, saying “…If it works even temporarily to solve an important social problem, then it is an important contribution” but that “the technological fix can only be trusted in the short term” (32). He offers real-world examples of problems that have or can be ameliorated by technological advents, but does admit that they are open to corruption. The other two authors are less optimistic about the benefits of technological fixes, but share Douthwaite’s reservations. Johnston points out how they generally “prioritize the status quo” (53), leaving smaller, underrepresented, or non-human communities vulnerable. Technological fixes do not address the underlying social, political or economic aspects of the problem at hand, and therefore the ethics of their results must be carefully considered. Michael and Joyce Huesemann further point out that many of these fixes are unpredictable and unprecedented, which should invite further pause before being implemented. The often-negative consequences of technology invite more technology, and thus an uncontrollable positive-feedback system is established.

Huesemann and Huesemann point out how biological evolution is the most powerful optimizing force in the world, one that has been working for billions of years. Species and environments have adapted in tandem, and the current natural world order is the result of the continuous perfecting of interactions. However, “the rate of current technological change is orders of magnitude greater [than biological evolution], thereby posing a potentially insurmountable challenge to environmental and cultural adaptation” (10). Along with this rapid development is the unfortunate perspective of Scientific Reductionism, which simplifies and isolates problems into its components. These factors often lead to negative repercussions. This very well may be a good reason to second-guess the application of technology when solving the world’s various problems, but this is highly implausible. Once advancing, the human race has little incentive to move backwards; therefore, the best thing may be to take the advice of Langdon Winner: “Eternal vigilance is the price of artificial complexity” (Huesemann and Huesemann, 15).