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?

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?

 

How Has This Summer’s Extreme Weather Impacted You?

Extreme weather events have been commonplace this summer, from brutal storms to crippling droughts. Have you been impacted?

As temperatures rise, the extra heat in the atmosphere translates to changing and unusual weather patterns.

For some, that means battering storms. These come with torrential rain that may lead to flooding, and some have seen tornadoes or hurricanes. Roads are being washed out, and homes or cars can be damaged or even ruined by rising waters.

For other areas, rather than receiving too much water, they don’t get enough. Above average temperatures and below average rainfall have led some previously fertile areas to experience droughts, ravaging crops and draining away rivers and lakes. Dry conditions lead to huge forest fires, and smoke from those fires can be carried by air currents for hundreds of miles.

Underlying all of this are record-high temperatures, which keep some people from venturing away from home at best, and leading to dehydration or heat exposure at worst.

This extreme weather impacts everyone, in ways both big and small. How have you been affected, and what may happen to you if temperatures continue to rise?

Related questions: How is climate change impacting you? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet? Climate change: How would you act if your house was on fire?

Climate Change: How Would You Act If Your House Was On Fire?

For decades humans have known that we are driving climate change.  And for most of that time, it’s been clear that unless we change our ways, the planet may become largely, if not wholly, inhospitable to humans as well as many other plants and animals.

The experts tell us that we’ve reached a tipping point.  We cannot reverse climate change any longer.  The best we can hope for is to stop the progress and mitigate the damages we’ve already wrought — the impacts we see now as well as those that are already in motion due to current actions.

Concretely, the United Nations warns us that we will experience hotter temperatures, more severe storms, increased droughts, rising ocean levels, loss of species, not enough food, increased health risks, and increased poverty and displacement.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the related question: ‘What are you willing to sacrifice?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What do you believe?’


Our house is on fire.

It’s been burning for quite some time.  But the fire, until fairly recently, progressed slowly.  Not so any longer.  The pace of climate change has been increasing.  And every year, it seems we need to recalculate the rate of change to faster still.   To stop the progress and mitigate the damages will require immediate changes to the world, national, and local economies; more sustainable agriculture practices; assistance to struggling regions of the world already seeing life-threatening impacts; sustainable technologies (old and new), and dramatic changes to our personal lives.

While some advocate for the necessary immediate changes, the dominant view appears to be kicking the can down the road. We convince ourselves that new technologies will save us or that younger generations will take this seriously and enact needed changes. So, we’re either pinning ourselves to shallow hope or acknowledging that the pains of change are not ones we will initiate.

We should expect more of ourselves.  How would you act if your house was on fire?  Because it is.

Related questions: How is climate change impacting you? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?

Should We Pursue Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy , like any other form of energy, has advantages and disadvantages. Do the pros outweigh the cons?

Our knowledge of the workings of atoms and the subatomic particles that make up those atoms marked a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the universe. It also allowed a leap forward in technology, which led to power plants that generate lots of electricity.

Energy that is generated from nuclear reactions has one primary advantage: no carbon emissions are produced. Most of the world’s energy currently comes from burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon into the air. That carbon is now threatening us all in the form of climate change.

Time is growing short to find an alternative form of energy, one that does not pump billions of tons of carbon into the air each year. Nuclear energy is one such possible alternative. (As are solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, and others.)


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the related question: ‘Is technology neutral?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘Freedom or security?’


The drawbacks to nuclear power are, primarily, two-fold.

First, nuclear plants produce radioactive waste, and no one has come up with a satisfactory plan for its disposal. That waste will last for hundreds of years. The current strategy for dealing with it is to put it somewhere that seems to be geologically stable, and far from any human civilizations.

The second danger comes from accidents that produce radioactive fallout. We’ve seen this play out most recently in Japan in 2011, when a tsunami destroyed a nuclear power plant. As a result, radioactive material was released into the surrounding air and ocean.

We have an energy problem. To live a lifestyle that is common in a first world country is energy intensive, and the energy demands of the human population across the world are expected to increase for the foreseeable future. No combination of alternate energy sources can meet our current needs, let alone larger ones.

Should we explore all possibilities, including nuclear? Or are the risks associated too great — even greater than those posed by climate change? Should we pursue nuclear energy?

Related questions: What is keeping us from sustaining the planet? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? How is climate change impacting you?