Technology is not enough

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Technology is not enough

Postby SolarpunkFan » 2017-02-19 08:38pm

I'm sure some people find the idea of transhumanism laughable, but I think this has some good insights. There's a podcast episode there, so that might be more in-depth than the print. I'm sorry if this is in the wrong forum.

https://www.singularityweblog.com/techn ... ot-enough/

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I am tired of hearing that science and technology will save the world.

It is almost the same as saying “Jesus will save you!”

It evokes the very same passive quasi-religious hope that something or someone out there will magically solve all our problems, bring abundance in our lives, help us live forever and bring back the dead.

I am sorry to break this to you but science and technology will not save the world. Never have.

For example, we have all the science and technology to provide water, food, shelter and sanitation – the mere basic necessities, to every hungry and homeless person on our planet. And yet 800 million people are starving. 800 million lack access to clean and safe drinking water and another 2 1/2 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. An estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide and as many as 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing.

Global warming is another obvious example: we know the science – it is pretty uncontroversial and conclusive. And we do have all the technology to move beyond both fossil fuels and meat consumption – the two most damaging factors not only to our environment but also to our own health. And yet we are not taking action. Hoping that the science will turn out to be wrong. That someone else will give up driving an SUV or eating meat three times per day. And that artificial intelligence will come and solve all of our problems.

Our civilization is like an alcoholic with a failing liver – we hope we can 3d bio-print a new one just in time, while failing to acknowledge our self-destructive habits and our own responsibility, thereby failing to address the actual problem, rather than the symptom.

It’s like hoping to win the lottery – it’s not totally impossible, but it is almost certain we won’t. [And even if we do, then what? It will only provide more time, not necessarily a solution.] And so we sit, and wait, and hope for science and technology to come save the world. And we are getting both fat and lazy as we are eating and driving ourselves to death. Both personally and collectively.

We are destroying ourselves and our planet and we put our hopes and fears in things like God, science and technology:

Our techno-deity aka “science and technology” will save us. [sic]

Or the wrath of God-like super-intelligent AI will destroy us.

And we keep telling ourselves that convenient story. That lie. So that we can keep avoiding an inconvenient truth:

That humanity is the greatest threat and hope for humanity. Not some omni-present, all-knowing, almighty force residing outside of us.

No.

It is us who are the greatest force on our planet – the real destroyers and creators. It is us who ought to take the blame for where we are today and the problems we have. It is us who are driving the train towards the trainwreck. And, it is only us, who can move our own foot off the gas pedal and hit the brakes to save ourselves.

So what would Socrates say?

Technology is NOT enough!

And neither is science.

P.S. Many thanks to my friend Sven Mastbooms for the original cartoon he made specially for this article.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-19 09:44pm

The percentages on the lack of clean water, lack of housing, and so on, were worse in the past. Technology may not be 'enough,' but it surely is 'a lot.'

Aside from that, I have nothing much to say.

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby B5B7 » 2017-02-19 10:50pm

Only people can save or "destroy" the world (our culture), so obviously people have to improve their behaviour.
Technology makes this easier. It is not technology that causes mass starvation and water shortages and human slavery (as OP article itself admits).
An ambulance can't take a person to hospital, it needs a driver. An operation room can't save a patient, it needs a surgery team.
So, sure in that sense science and technology can't save the world, you also need educated people to use that technology, and also needed is decent politicians and bureaucrats to ensure that technology is used properly. This latter area is where nations are sorely lacking, and that is a human problem. Fix the people, fix the problems. Of course, this is the hardest problem in the world. There has been some progress, as it isn't only politicians and bureaucrats that affect society, it is also driven forward by what everyone else does. The world is better than it was as a general rule.

So the OP is right that it is a human problem. He is attacking a phantom. No one believes science and technology alone will fix things.
The saying he is attacking is a shorthand. Science and technology are tools, and tools need tool-users. So scientists and technologists, along with everyone else, can save the world.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Flagg » 2017-02-20 03:45am

That's more a lesson in "survival of the fittest" than "technology is the badz!!!"

Like the old Carlin joke: "The kid that ate too many marbles didn't get to grow up to have kids of his own." :lol:
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby FTeik » 2017-02-20 02:58pm

Stalin was on to something, when he said the solution to every problem was death, since the source of every problem was man.

No man, no problem.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby SolarpunkFan » 2017-02-20 03:49pm

Flagg wrote:That's more a lesson in "survival of the fittest" than "technology is the badz!!!"

Like the old Carlin joke: "The kid that ate too many marbles didn't get to grow up to have kids of his own." :lol:


The article was getting at that. It wasn't against technology so much as it was against pure technological solutionism: the idea that if your technology gets advanced enough then there will be no more societal problems.

That's naive of course, science and technology are just tools, what matters is what humanity does with them.

That's what I took away from it at least, I've been wrong before.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Zixinus » 2017-02-20 04:13pm

I think the notion that the article is against is the idea that every current problem created by technology in the first place will eventually be solved , in time, cheaply and conveniently, by new technologies. The attitude that the problem will be solved down the line rather than handled right now, with imperfect solutions that demand substantial sacrifice.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-02-20 04:15pm

I think the point is that we have lots of techno-optimists who unite with people I can only describe as techno-fascists, and then proceed to extoll the glories of the brave new world. So the situation is even more dangerous than the article argues: there are people who trust in Deus Ex Machina as a solution, but this Deus has direct owners (like all good religion, there are priests and prophets, and they control the message and the masses).

The optimists are usually the friendly, good kind. They would tell about how Monsanto saves the world from hunger or how Uber "disrupts" old industries for the benefit of the common man. And the people who own that technology are very glad to hear this, because they are calling the shots.

The article made an important point, that all of technology cannot stop the necessity of social reform. Facebook cannot replace a revolution. If anything, it can even do the exact opposite: help people like Trump come to power, through unverified "alternative facts" being spread like a virus.

But while we all realize horrible future can also have majestic technology (I think the remake of Westworld has been particularly good as a recent example), we don't want to think that social reform is more necessary than technology to make a better future viable. That thought is anathema, because the owners of technology will start losing cash. And they don't want that. And neither do we, right?
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby cosmicalstorm » 2017-02-20 04:51pm

When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Zixinus » 2017-02-20 05:06pm

cosmicalstorm wrote:When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.


Only if they are available to everyone in the sense "anyone that wants them can get them" and not just "the same way a ferradi is available to anyone".
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Starglider » 2017-02-20 05:42pm

cosmicalstorm wrote:When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.


Increasing IQ reduces petty criminality but doesn't make people less selfish. You would need to increase empathy and decrease sociopathy to do that.

In general though the author has no perspective. Technology has been the enabler for social progress throughout most of civilised history; social progress follows along behind improvements in manufacturing, transport and communications. When it lags too far behind, things get particularly tragic.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Thanas » 2017-02-20 05:49pm

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-20 06:18pm

Starglider wrote:
cosmicalstorm wrote:When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.
Increasing IQ reduces petty criminality but doesn't make people less selfish. You would need to increase empathy and decrease sociopathy to do that.
One would hope that increasing IQ would also make the general public less susceptible to 'madness of crowds' and collective self-destructive behaviors that don't even benefit themselves as individuals. But the benefits, if any, do seem to be pretty subtle.

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-02-21 01:25am

Starglider wrote:Technology has been the enabler for social progress throughout most of civilised history

Here Starglider fails basic reasoning, turning causality of the chain upside down. This should have been: social progress allowed technology to flourish and develop. Social progress allows rapid advancements in communication, manufacturing and transportation to take place. The two are at the very least interconnected. Social regress usually leads to a swift and observable step back in terms of technology as well.

It is, again, the prophets of the bad future who like to claim that technology is the enabler. This allows them to try and push technological development while ignoring the underlying social base entirely. But usually this blows up in their face, and this time it may happen as well. Just need to wait a bit.
cosmicalstorm wrote:When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.

How? Stating something requires some proof. At least try, you know.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby FTeik » 2017-02-21 04:56am

cosmicalstorm wrote:When technology can provide IQ boosting genetic fixes and cybernetic implants it will be able to adress these issues more effectively.


What have intelligence and cybernetic implants to do with morals and decency? Humans are already intelligent enough to identify problems and come up with a solution for them - but as long as they are not directly concerned, they are too lazy and apathic to deal with them.

@K.A.Pital: I don't agree with your idea, that technological progress follows social progress. Among other things the invention of the printing-press made the enlightment possible, the anti-baby-pill was a huge boost to the equality of woman and according to Marx, the industrialisation would create the proletariat needed for a social revolution, IIRC
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-21 05:07am

Social stasis can prevent technological advancement. Social progress can permit technological advancement, or even drive it.

Technological stasis can prevent social advancement. Technological progress can permit social advancement, or even drive it.

Technology seldom advances significantly in a socially stagnant or regressive atmosphere. Society seldom advances in a technologically stagnant or regressive atmosphere.

Which part of "it's a symbiotic relationship" is confusing, or even non-obvious?

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-02-21 01:30pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Social stasis can prevent technological advancement. Social progress can permit technological advancement, or even drive it.

Technological stasis can prevent social advancement. Technological progress can permit social advancement, or even drive it.

Technology seldom advances significantly in a socially stagnant or regressive atmosphere. Society seldom advances in a technologically stagnant or regressive atmosphere.

Which part of "it's a symbiotic relationship" is confusing, or even non-obvious?

I would say that this is mistaking the cause and effect on a basic level, treating technology as an outside force that exists outside society, and is not produced by it. It is a mechanistic error, much like the mechanistic error of many economic models which cannot fully explain the nuances of human behaviour and resort to the introduction of "outside forces". Which outside forces?

Technology is always produced by society, much like everything we have. The level of technology and its uses depend on the state of society, on its structure, its intellectual capabilities. Technology is just a much a product of intellectual labour of society as anything else that is produced by the society.

In recent years this link has been weakened due to capitalistic globalism, which like a parasite can suck nations dry, collect the best minds on the planet, put them in a glass jar or aquarium - good name that - and make them produce shiny new technologies. This creates the illusion of exogenous technology in society.

But the truth is techology is always endogenous. Even the "symbiotic relationship" is only like that because technology is a part of society and no outside force in the first place. Social development will occur and it will produce technology - this is what history has shown. Not the other way around, if we are speaking in pure cause and effect terms.

Exogenous technology for Earth would be contact with alien tech and its reverse engineering. This has not happened.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2017-02-21 02:33pm

And there's cherry-picking and selective-vision. One can say there's social progress for some people due to technology's fruits, but that's not exclusive with... an out-group' being excluded from these fruits and progresses, much to their expense.

It all depends on who you ignore/leave behind and what your perspectives leave out due to myopic perceptions and preconceptions of ultimate rationality. Is it actual rationality... or is there some underlying dysfunction or malfunction that makes one deliberately turn away from those who are getting shafted, or even deride their plights?

And yes, even if on paper there are improvements in the living standards of even the "bottom-class" then, what? Morbidly obese people dying of diabetes, or getting lead in their water, or getting sick of diseases that are so "expensive" that they only exist because they've evolved out of the overuse of pricey advanced antibiotics and antiseptic conditions (so they're not cheap diseases :P ) would still count as having better lives than miserable leaf-wearing jungle people who can't get lead poisoning because they don't even have plumbing or can't even get antibiotic-resistant acronym infections because they don't have antibiotics OR alphabets to make disease-acronyms... so they should stop complaining, these entitled brats! :P ;) But nonetheless this is a sign of disparity and imbalance and for fuck's sake, condescending derisive shits should get off their high horses and be humane.
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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-02-21 04:47pm

K. A. Pital wrote:I would say that this is mistaking the cause and effect on a basic level, treating technology as an outside force that exists outside society, and is not produced by it. It is a mechanistic error, much like the mechanistic error of many economic models which cannot fully explain the nuances of human behaviour and resort to the introduction of "outside forces". Which outside forces?

Technology is always produced by society, much like everything we have. The level of technology and its uses depend on the state of society, on its structure, its intellectual capabilities. Technology is just a much a product of intellectual labour of society as anything else that is produced by the society.

In recent years this link has been weakened due to capitalistic globalism, which like a parasite can suck nations dry, collect the best minds on the planet, put them in a glass jar or aquarium - good name that - and make them produce shiny new technologies. This creates the illusion of exogenous technology in society.

But the truth is techology is always endogenous. Even the "symbiotic relationship" is only like that because technology is a part of society and no outside force in the first place. Social development will occur and it will produce technology - this is what history has shown. Not the other way around, if we are speaking in pure cause and effect terms.
This is a bit like saying "everything is caused by the sun," because the sun is the source of all the energy that powers the Earth's biosphere, that provided the stored energy in fossil fuels, that heats the Earth enough to make it habitable, and so on.

Saying "the sun makes it go" is not a useful observation unless we talk in detail about the causal mechanisms by which solar energy causes things to happen. We would not be in a position to benefit from all this solar energy, if not for other scientific facts, other processes, other complications.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is Marx, everything looks like a consequence of changing social structures. But even if that is in some sense true, saying "all changes are caused by social changes" does not adequately capture the complexity and richness of the interactions.

There are social advances we have now, that would almost certainly not exist if not for the successes of 20th century medical researchers.

Conversely, those 20th century medical researchers would not have been able to do their good work, if not for living in a society with public education, reasonably low levels of internal violence, and freedom of (or freedom from) religion.

But then we can flip back, and point out that we have public education because of advances in productivity that make it neither necessary nor desirable to have children working as laborers, rather than as students. We have low levels of internal violence in part because physical competition for the means of survival has decreased, due to food, clothing, and shelter being easier to procure even for the most miserable and lowly members of developed societies. We have freedom of religion in part because previous generations of scientists made discoveries that gave us the idea of a reason-based, fact-based worldview that is not automatically dependent on mysticism or the nature of the god(s).

And we could turn around and point to social advances that made those technical advances possible, and vice versa, and so on back to the days when the first cavemen discovered fire and in the process made cooking food possible. Or, conversely, when the first cavemen banded together and thus made it possible to maintain a communal campfire in the first place.

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Re: Technology is not enough

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-02-21 05:27pm

When all you have is Marx, everything looks like a consequence of changing social structures.

I am actually disagreeing with Marx here - even if the disagreement is slight. To Marx, the means of production (which include technology) can revolutionarize the social, the mode of production. I think it was mentioned above even.

I think that the underlying truth of the cycle (social change -> technical change -> social change) begins with the social. It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but everything begins with the social. Even the spread of an invented technology is impossible without social interaction - this also explains why multiple inventions over history can exist (certain thing was discovered and rediscovered several times, maybe even over centuries), but only once social structures can support and carry the invention to reach full potential, will the invention be mass-used. This poses a severe challenge to the idea of independent technological development or technology as the driver of social development.

If technology is the driver, why the enormous volume of premature inventions and discoveries made by mankind went nowhere and did not produce a social revolution? Why only the ones we know were mass-accepted did?

If everything at least begins with the social, technology has a place as a product of society which acts as a feedback loop (invention -> better communication/health/etc -> more inventions/idea-sharing/etc). But if everything begins with the bare technology, with the means of production alone - wait, it actually cannot.
There are social advances we have now, that would almost certainly not exist if not for the successes of 20th century medical researchers.

True, but you don't trace this success to the underlying productive order in society? I mean, the researchers could discover antibiotics by accident before, but their synthetic mass-production revolutionarized healthcare, not the discovery alone.

The question is not whether technology can or cannot act as a feedback mechanism. The question is, can it cause social progress?

If you look at tribes of hunter-gatherers who come in contact with technology, there is actually precious little progress or use from that technology. Which again makes it unlikely technology itself can 'drive' anything. You can give smartphones to a hunter-gatherer tribe, but their usefulness will be miniscule. It might be that if you grant the technology to a society that has no use for it, after several cycles of generations it will simply be lost. Again underscoring the primacy of the social structure. The social structure will expose the fact that a given technology (much like humans and their minds) make sense only inside an appropriate society.

Once hunter gatherers transition to agriculture - it is a decision simultaneously made by many people - then some technology will start making sense, so people will produce this technology and go on. Technology advancement will start, as usual, only with the social decisions that predate any such advancement.
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