What Technology Is A Force For Good?

Much of the conversation surrounding emerging or existing technologies often focuses on worst-case uses. But what are some of the ways technology can be used for improving the future?

There have been many warnings surrounding Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. From job replacement, to increased potential for spreading misinformation, to accusations of plagiarism or even intellectual laziness, the dangers are many. Warning bells have come from a variety of different sources, and some predictions are quite bleak, indeed.

Existing technologies can also have negative consequences.

The Internet has only been in use for a few decades, but some blame it for the increased polarization throughout the world. Misinformation and propaganda seem to spread more quickly than facts and logic. Social media platforms keep us in our own echo chambers. It is easier to find and target people for scams, and conspiracy theories abound. It is a far cry from the educational potential the Internet initially had.

In fact, you can go all the way back to the start of the industrial revolution to see the seeds of our current climate crisis. The burning of fossil fuels made production and distribution cheap and easy, but a warming planet is an unintended side effect.

These are all examples of technology introducing or exacerbating problems. However, there is no doubt that our world has used our growing mechanical know-how for good occasionally. Can you think of some examples of positive outcomes that come from science and engineering advances? And in what ways might the emerging technologies transform our world for the better?

Related questions: What role does technology play in your life? Is technology neutral? What skills have you lost due to technology? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us?

How Accurate Is Your Algorithm?

Most people these days have an active online life. In that life, much of the online content is delivered via algorithm. Is that algorithm any good?

Of course, different websites employ different algorithms. The basic idea is the same in each case, however: if you like this thing, you will also like this other thing.

These programs appear just about everywhere online. For example, when you watch a YouTube video, a YouTube algorithm suggests other videos that you may also want to watch.

Not only are these programs ubiquitous, they are crucial to any good website. In the above example, if the YouTube algorithm does not suggest videos you actually want to watch, then you may leave the platform altogether. So, from YouTube’s perspective, it is vitally important that the algorithm work as intended.

What may not be quite so obvious, however, is how important it is to you. There are so many videos available on YouTube that it is impossible to watch them all. In fact, without some way of singling out videos that have some interest to you, you would almost certainly become overwhelmed.

Of course, it is not just YouTube that employs an algorithm to deliver content. Social media sites do it as well. They may suggest other accounts you may want to follow, or posts you may want to see. Online stores use them to practice a modern-day version of an ages old technique of up-selling. Online advertisements, which use cookies to track your browsing habits, can be tailor made to get you to buy something.

In your experience, are these algorithms any good? Does Netflix suggest TV shows and movies that you actually want to watch? Does Amazon recommend products that actually end up in your shopping cart? Is your Facebook feed made up of posts that interest you?

How accurate is your algorithm?

Related questions: What makes us comment on social media? What do you get out of social media? How does technology influence your emotions? How does media manipulate you?

Are You Worried About The Coming Year?

While there is certainly good news in the world, there are several areas that may be cause for concern in the coming year. Are you worried?

As a new year begins, sometimes you can be optimistic about the future. However, if your tendency is to be pessimistic, there are plenty of things to be worried about.

A notable one, at least in the U.S., is that it is a presidential election year. Politics are already dividing our nation in a way not seen for decades, and a presidential race threatens to cause even further inflame tensions. As misinformation spreads quickly, the two sides have difficulty agreeing on basic facts.

Another concern is climate change. Each year is warmer than the previous year, which has led to a stunning number of environmental disasters: floods, wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, and so on. The pattern would seem to suggest this year will see even more extreme weather across the globe.

Two ongoing wars, one between Russia and Ukraine, and another between Israel and Hamas, have many feeling uneasy. In addition to the increase of immigrants fleeing for their lives, both conflicts could have drastic impacts on the world.

Technology continues to shape our lives in radical ways. The rise of social media has left many users feeling isolated and depressed. The coming age of artificial intelligence may touch nearly every sector of the economy, threatening to change our lives in ways we don’t yet understand.

Is this doom and gloom warranted? There are also positive news stories — do they get pushed aside for headline-grabbing bad news? Is our anxiety legitimate, or are we kept in a state of fear by corporations and governments with ulterior motives?

Are you worried about the coming year?

Related questions: What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How is climate change impacting you? Will the future be better than the present?