Full Title or Meme
As new technology is introduced, it is often viewed as providing solutions to existing problems, but its record at that is not good.
- The introduction of new technology will always disturbed the existing civilizations. Some, like the introduction of the printing press, do so in radical ways.
- Legislation is typically reactionary. When a civilization becomes unstable as a result of any change, the lawmakers are compelled to act. It is unlikely that the existing lawmakers can understand the causes of the instability, particularly when the root cause is a new technology. The easiest solutions are to make minor adjustments to ameliorate the impact of the technology. Changes that fail to address the root causes of the instability are not likely to have any discernible effect at reducing the instability. In fact whenever an unstable condition exists, more change will, most likely, create more instability. This is a well known effect in control theory.
- Whenever a civilization becomes unstable, emergency steps to reduce the pain are often necessary.
- To reduce the instability the controllers of the civilization need to understand the root caused and address those.
- In the case of the introduction of the printing press, Stability was not achieved until decades of war between opposing solutions.
- So the ultimate solution to social change is revolution and sometimes the eliminations of several layers of ossified bureaucracy.
- More civilized solutions are desired, but often difficult to craft.
- When revolution is required, the social impact of that can be ameliorated by careful planning of the result, as was the case in the Glorious Revolution of 1688" in Britain, or the American Revolution and the constitution that was adopted.
Fixing Problems created by Technology
As pointed out above, introducing more change to a changing civilization is not likely to have the desired effect. Still there are two type of reaction which differ specifically in the time frame to which they apply.
- Immediate fixes to the technology. The problem here is that immediate technological fixes typically come from the same people that create the problem, which they are no real incentive to even acknowledge as their problem. Also these are typically public companies which are rewarded for short term profit maximization and cant really afford to take long term goal.
- Long term fixes to the technology. The problem here is that it is hard to put the genie in the bottle as more profitable companies are loath to abandon their money-making solutions. The market place will only reward those new solutions that are profitable, so law that is based on improved outcomes, rather the punishment for real or perceived harms, is the base approach. Unfortunately, law is by majority rule, and there is little experience to show that majority rule more oriented to good long term plans than are profit-making corporations.
- Explaining a future in terms that are understandable to the populate seems to be the only way to avoid catastrophe. A good example is environmental protection when expressed in human terms, like clear air and clean water.
Tim Berners-Lee is trying to tell us that his intentions for the web were honorable and somehow the catastrophe is not his fault. He claims 'I wanted the web to serve humanity." But the contemporaneous reports were that he was focused on the information sharing within the scientific community. Commercial traffic on the internet was not even encouraged until 1994, about the same time that the Netscape Navigator was released.
Let's look at several other cases of where good intentions did not bring the desired result:
Americans in the early 19th century indulged in the fantasy that Technology could bind all peoples of the world together. In 1858 a cable laid between the US and England was to be the beginning of this Utopia. Samuel F B Morse believed the telegraph enable world peace.  "One of its effects will be to bind men to his fellow men and to put an end to war. War is a shortcoming that could be overcome by way of a machine." He believed that simply laying down a telegraph cable across the continent would bind all American together in a eliminate regional differences. The civil war was in full swing within a decade.
The Gatling gun was touted as and end to war. The machine gun continues to the the most lethal hand held weapon of human slaughter. This enables lone gunmen to inflict wartime levels of causalities in civilian settings.
Herbert Hoover thought that radio would bring the country together (as did S. B. Morse) and that technology would soon eliminate poverty in the US, just one year before the economy collapsed and radio became the favorite podium for demagogues like Father Coughlin and others.
The Atom Bomb was dropped on Japan to save lives of warfighters. Humans have succeed in creating a weapon to wipe out all of humanity.
Artificial Intelligence is adopted by Military organizations to save the lives of their warfighters. It is also used by totalitarian regimes to segregate out people to be marginalized or killed. It is now being placed into obsolete warplanes in place of pilots, not only to save lives of warfighters, but to lower the cost of killing others.
Now Mark Zuckerberg tells us that his intentions with Facebook were to bind mankind together. The results are similar to those above.
- Tim Berners-Lee, I Invented the World Wide Web. Here’s How We Can Fix It. New York Times (2019-11-24) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/24/opinion/world-wide-web.html
- Jill Lepore, These Truths. W. W. Norton (2019-10-31) ISBN 978-0393357424