Published on March 2, 2014
Technodeterminism Future Day | Saturday March 1 2014 | Andrew Dun
Goal: Optimise human wellbeing Aspects to consider: Determinism Inevitabilism Optimism And then: Strategic consequences, Case studies
TD - Definitions Futurism, Philosophy of Technology, Philosophy of Engineering, Media Theory.
TD - Definitions 'The belief in technology as a key governing force in society...' Merritt Roe Smith (American Historian) - Technological Determinism in American Culture, in ‘Does Technology Drive History? - The Dilemma of Technological Determinism’ (TDOTD), 1994, p2. 'The idea that technological development determines social change...' Bruce Bimber (American Political Scientist) - Three Faces of Technological Determinism, in TDOTD, 1994, p80. ‘Technology determines history’ Rosalind Williams (American Historian) - The Political and Feminist Dimensions of Technological Determinism, in TDODT, 1994, p218 '... the belief that social progress is driven by technological innovation, which in turn follows an "inevitable" course.' Michael L. Smith (American Historian) - Recourse of Empire: Landscapes of Progress in Technological America, in TDODT, 1994, p38 -> unpack...
Social Progress vs. Human Progress Human Environment = Totality of conditions that directly impact human welfare Human Welfare -> May be cashed out in a variety of ways. Utilitarianism may provide a starting point. Human Progress = Changes in the human environment which produce improvements in human welfare
Factors which may contribute to human progress: Social conditions = Factors impacting human social circumstances, including levels of freedom, fairness, justice, liberty, security, inclusiveness. E.g. Institutions, laws, social norms, philosophical ideas, cultural values Technological conditions = Factors impacting material conditions of life factors governing food, shelter, safety, communication, health E.g. Agriculture, manufacturing, computation, communications, medicine, environment, genetics
Technology Historically: writing, fire, wheels onward. Here = future technologies, predominantly advanced technologies.
Determinisms - I Really strong - Like the (Newtonian) trajectory of a billiard ball on a table Strong - like traffic lights determining traffic flow Moderate - like weather determining how many people buy ice cream Weak - Like butterfly effects Zero - no effect
Determinisms - II Strong technodeterminism: The view that technological progress determines human progress Strong technoindeterminism: The view that technological progress has negligible impact on human progress Strong socialdeterminism: The view that social progress determines human progress Strong socialindeterminism: The view that social progress has negligible impact on human progress
Welfare Models - Hybrid Hybrid welfare model: Human welfare = Social conditions + Technological conditions Hybrid model Technodeterminism: Technological conditions -> Social conditions so Human welfare = Technological conditions Hybrid model Social determinism: Social conditions -> Technological conditions, so Human welfare = Social conditions
Welfare Models - Social Social welfare model: Human welfare = Social conditions Social model Technodeterminism: Technological conditions -> Social conditions so Human welfare = Technological conditions Social model Social determinism: Social conditions -> Technological conditions so Human welfare = Social conditions
Welfare Models - Technological Technological welfare model: Human welfare = Technological conditions Technological model Technodeterminism: Tech conditions -> Social conditions so Human welfare = Technological conditions Technological model Social determinism: Social conditions -> Tech conditions so Human welfare = Social conditions Non-deterministic welfare model?
Will assume that Technoindeterminism = Socialdeterminism and vice versa On any model of human welfare, if strong technodeterminism is true, human welfare is a product of technological conditions. On any model of human welfare, if strong socialdeterminism is true, human welfare is a product of social conditions - laws, norms, cultures institutions. Strong technodeterminism and strong socialdeterminism are mutually exclusive. Hereafter will abstract discussion from welfare models.
Technoinevatiblism Strong technoinevitablism: The view that technological development is entirely inevitable, independent of political, social, cultural, economic, historical factors (cultural technological darwinism) Strong technocontingentism: The view that technological development is entirely dependent upon political, social, cultural, economic, historical factors Equivalent categories may be posited for social conditions - social inevitablism, socialcontingentism. Unlike technodeterminism, it could be the case that both technoinevitablism and social inevitablism are simultaneously true.
Arguments and Opinions - Pro Technodeterminism Neil Postman (American media theorist): "the uses made of technology are largely determined by the structure of the technology itself, that is, that its functions follow from its form". Teaching As A Conserving Activity, 1979 Theodore Kaczynski (American mathematician, serial bomber): “It is not possible to make a lasting compromise between technology and freedom, because technology is by far the more powerful social force and continually encroaches on freedom through repeated compromises.” Industrial Society and Its Future (1995) - "Technology Is A More Powerful Social Force Than The Aspiration For Freedom", item 125
Arguments and Opinions - Pro Technodeterminism Aldous Huxley (British author): “Democracy can hardly be expected to flourish in societies where political and economic power is being progressively concentrated and centralized. But the progress of technology has led and is still leading to just such a concentration and centralization of power.” Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 3 (p. 19) Karl Marx (German philosopher, sociologist): "The Handmill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist" The Poverty of Philosophy (1847)
Arguments and Opinions - Pro Technodeterminism Thomas L. Friedman (American author): “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” "A Manifesto for the Fast World". New York Times. March 28 (1999). Marshall McLuhan (Canadian communication theorist): “The most human thing about us is our technology.” Man and the future of organizations, Volume 5, School of Business Administration, Georgia State University, (1974) p. 19
Arguments and Opinions - Contra Technodeterminism Leila Green (Australian media theorist): “Technology is always developed with a particular purpose or objective in mind.. to benefit those who are capable of funding its development.” Technoculture: From Alphabet to Cybersex (2002) Langdon Winner (American social scientist / philosopher of technology): "What matters is not the technology itself, but the social or economic system in which it is embedded" Do Artifacts Have Politics? (1986)
Arguments and Opinions - Contra Technodeterminism Eli Pariser (American author, internet activist): “Coders sometimes harbor God impulses; they sometimes even have aspirations to revolutionize society. But they almost never aspire to be politicians... But for programmers to shun politics completely is a problem—because increasingly, given the disputes that inevitably arise when people come together, the most powerful ones will be required to adjudicate and to govern. “ The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You (2011) National Handgun and Rifle Association (NHRA): “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Various
Arguments and Opinions - Pro Technoinevitablism Daniel Chandler (British Semiotician): “Once a technology is introduced into a culture what follows is the inevitable development of that technology.” “Technological or Media Determinism’’ (1995) John von Neumann (Hungarian-American Mathematician): “Technological possibilities are irresistible to man.” ‘in L. Mumford - ‘The Pentagon of Power’ (1971), p. 186.
Kevin Kelly (American, Editor Wired Magazine): “Extrapolated, technology wants what life wants: Increasing efficiency Increasing opportunity Increasing emergence Increasing complexity Increasing diversity Increasing specialization Increasing ubiquity Increasing freedom Increasing mutualism Increasing beauty Increasing sentience Increasing structure Increasing evolvability” ― Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants 2011
Arguments and Opinions - Pro Technoinevitablism Ray Kurzweil - The Singularity Is Near (2005)
Arguments and Opinions - Contra Technoinevitablism Michael and Joyce Huesemann (American chemical engineer, American anthropologist): “Anyone who allows the technological imperative to guide his actions has, in fact, given up any consideration of ethics in his decision making.” Technofix: Why Technology Won't Save Us Or the Environment (2011) Steven Pinker (Canadian Psychologist, Cognitive Scientist): ”There is not the slightest reason to believe in a coming singularity. The fact that you can visualize a future in your imagination is not evidence that it is likely or even possible. Look at domed cities, jet-pack commuting, underwater cities, milehigh buildings, and nuclear-powered automobiles--all staples of futuristic fantasies when I was a child that have never arrived. Sheer processing power is not a pixie dust that magically solves all your problems.” Tech Luminaries Address Singularity, IEEE Spectrum (2008)
Balancing Considerations (I) Determinism For Social lag, Political impacts of printing press, Reproductive impacts of reduced infant mortality, Matches between technological and social enlightenment/growth/chang e Against Inequality of technological access (eg food manufacturing and distribution, health care), Advanced tech + repressive laws (Singapore, China, Soviet Union), Technology vs Happiness (National Happiness Index), Pinker’s theories of the ‘long peace’ (nuclear, Kantian, democratic, liberal, trade-based), Progress traps (eg. environment)
Balancing Considerations (II) Inevitablism For Smooth development of information technologies over time, Simultaneous scientific and engineering developments across the globe, Technological cultural Darwinism (cultures survive according to their capacity to nurture technology) Against Technological regressions in particular cultures (Japan, tribal developmental regressions, Amish), Scientific regressions (eg Dark Ages), Contemporary anti-technological movements, Resource constraints, Human ingenuity constraints
...work to be done. For current purposes, moderate determinism and inevitablism provide an interesting position for further consideration -> high leveraging of outcomes. In what follows, I will refer to this position as ‘techno-moderate’. This has also been called the SST or “Social Shaping of Technology” perspective. (MacKenzie & Wajcman 1999) False Dichotomies?
Levers for Human Progress Contingentism Inevitablism Strong social determinism Social Levers Social Levers, (accelerators, breaks) Strong technodeterminism Technological Levers No strong levers (breaks, accelerators)
Levers for Human Progress Technological attitudes Techno-optimist: Technology ultimately helps optimise human flourishing Also: technoprogressive Techno-pessimist: Technology ultimately hinders human flourishing Also: bioconservative Techno-ambivalentist: Technology may ultimately help or hinder (subtypes still apply: determinist, non-determinist)
Levers for Human Progress Technodeterminism or socialdeterminism (by degree) Technoinevitablism or technocontingentism (by degree) Technooptimism or techopessimism => Leveraging strategy * These positions may be generalised or particularised, and focussed around technologies or human welfare issues.
Deterministic Levers Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Social levers NA (but frequently allied with rationalism) NA (but frequently allied with traditionalism) Sociotechnological levers (leveraging impact) Promotion of technology through public education, campaigns, tax breaks for technological upgrades, infrastructural improvements (e.g. NBN), phasing out of old infrastructure Tendency toward prohibitions and legal limitations against uses of technology
Deterministic Levers Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Politicotechnological levers (leveraging development) Tax incentives for research, Government research, investment in education Tax burdens for research, prohibitions against research, removal of government funding for research, removal of funding or promotion for scientific, technical, or even rationalistic education Direct technological levers Basic and applied research and development. Development of tools for further development: seed AI, ICT infrastructure, financial instruments, linked data, rapid gene sequencing. Technocratic governance(?) Interference with scientific and political development, destruction of infrastructure, abandonment of technology , Use of one technology to mitigate, retard or destroy another
Strategy: Case Studies (Descriptions of strategies as techno-optimistic and techo-pessimistic may be arguable from case to case.)
Strong Artificial Intelligence Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Social levers Popularisation of friendly AI concepts? Debunking of technological prejudices Reinforcement of technological prejudices. Antitechnology political movements. Cultural conservativism. Sociotechnological levers (leveraging impact) Laws limiting or shaping usage of AI Laws prohibiting usage of AI
Strong Artificial Intelligence Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Politicotechnological levers (leveraging development) Laws governing design and function of AI. Restrictions on bodies allowed to engage in AI research. Investment in research by potential benevolent first movers. Laws prohibiting development of AIs. Research directed at preventing AI development. Direct technological levers Friendly AI research Destruction of AI technology and research. Anti-AIs.
Climate Change Mitigation Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Social levers Bright Green Environmentalism. Deep Ecology environmentalism, Green anarchism Sociotechnological levers (leveraging impact) Policies and programs designed to incentivise reduced resource consumption without reduction in economic activity. Policies and programs designed to incentivise reduced economic participation, developmental rollback.
Climate Change Mitigation Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Politicotechnological levers (leveraging development) Investment in renewable energies. Economic rollback policies. Direct technological levers Development of mitigation technologies: Carbon capture, artificial leaves, geoengineering, terraforming, renewable or near-renewable energy systems. Rollback of industrialised economies, survivalist techniques and technologies
Nuclear threat mitigation Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Social levers Disarmament movements Armament movements Sociotechnological levers (leveraging impact) Policies encouraging cosmopolitanism, internationalism? Policies encouraging population dispersal?
Nuclear threat mitigation Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Politicotechnological levers (leveraging development) Denuclearisation doctrines. MAD Strategies, including assured second strike capabilities (e.g. nuclear submarines) Nuclearisation - strategies for victorious nuclear war Direct technological levers Development of nuclear weapons defence systems. Advanced nuclear reactors (eg. pebble-bed). Development of more advanced and potent nuclear weapons (nuclear peace theory). Simulation-based development. Sabotage of nuclear technologies and installations. Warhead destruction. Mass destruction aimed at economic rollback.
Poverty MRE Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Social levers Effective Altruism movements, NGOs, Effective and boosted foreign aid movements, Human rights campaigns, Sustainability campaigns Recourse to existing customs and traditions, Appeal to religious frameworks (e.g. prayer), Cultural relativism, National isolationism, Economic Darwinism, Fatalism, Scapegoating Sociotechnological levers (leveraging impact) Geopolitical interventions, institutional development, Supranational economic and political institutions Government policies geared toward resource conflict, Militarism, Regressive economics
Poverty MRE Optimistic technodeterminism (working with technology) Pessimistic technodeterminism (working against technology) Politicotechnological levers (leveraging development) Political agitation for massive foreign aid boosts, Policies geared toward development of sustainable technologies, broad infrastructural development, Microfinance technologies etc Policies geared toward deindustrialisation (facilitating renewal of natural resources, decontamination, pollution reduction), Depopulating policies (reduction in competition for natural resources) Direct technological levers Development: technologies for intensive and sustainable agriculture, affordable vaccines, medicines, water filtration, sanitation, communications etc. Systems for low-friction giving, impact tracking Emphasis upon non-industrial techniques for social organisation and wellbeing (subsistence agriculture, farming, traditional lifestyles), Social isolationism (epidemiological quarantine)
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