In a recent edition of BBC World Service’s Tech Tent, the outgoing technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, reminisced about an interview he had conducted with the late Stephen Hawking around the use of Artificial Intelligence.  Hawking was keen on the technology in its current state but was fearful that, if it could make its own decisions in the future, it threatened the entire existence of mankind. This story which was reported around the globe, was cited by Cellan-Jones as one of the highlights of his entire 40-year career at the BBC.

Is there such a thing as too much technology?

Reminded of this story by the Tech Tent podcast, I started speculating whether the constant evolution of new technology is a given for the future or whether there might be a point where humanity says no. This follows months where it seems most technology stories have been negative.  Examples include:

  • A former employee turned whistle blower of Facebook went public with evidence that the company had not published research into the potential negative impact of the site on young people and did not have enough of a focus on user safety
  • Controversy over schools in Scotland using facial recognition software to enable a cashless payment system for school lunches. In the same week Facebook ditched its facial recognition programme and Uber was facing legal action over its own use of this technology
  • The technology industry was also being accused of Grinch-like behaviour because the shortage of chips for toys will mean less Christmas joy

Add to this growing concerns over the use of our data by giants such as Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon and it feels like the tide is beginning to turn on the industry’s relentless demand for the new.

Agnostic technology

Back in the 2000s one of my jobs at Motorola involved me supporting a sponsorship the company held with a children’s charity.  The business got very concerned because the founder of the charity – that provided support for kids facing bullying and harm – had commented that mobile phones could make bullying worse for kids.  They potentially now faced abuse not only in person at school but also via the mobile device. The other side of the coin is that mobile phones made it easier for kids to report bullying and abuse quickly.

Technology is not inherently good or bad. The application of technology is another matter.  As a society we strike a balance between the freedom to do things that may cause harm but which we enjoy (such as driving a car or drinking alcohol) and understanding the risks.  As technology evolves, I wonder if similar debates will emerge?