Technology, Is it worth it?

The development of new technology is always an exciting prospect in society.  The future predictions of genetically engineered super crops, and the creation of robots with human intelligence have caused a lot of this excitement.  As cool as beets the size of potatoes, and having your own personal robot may seem, they may in fact pose threats to humanity.  It is important for human beings to understand the risks of these newtechnologies and plan accordingly.

The emergence of genetically engineered crop farms may appear to be a step toward conquering world hunger.  However, recent studies have shown that it might actually be a step backwards and cause more hunger.  First, “Increasing agricultural output has little effect on the hungry because it fails to address the key issues of access to land and purchasing power which are at the root of hunger.”  Thus, increasing the food supply will not necessarily provide those in need of food with access to it.  Also, by creating large technologically oriented farms, enclosure trends, or forcing peasant farmers off their land, will continue and more and more people will move to urban areas and become hungry: “Nearly ten million farmers in the Third World may face a loss of livelihood as laboratory-produced sweeteners begin invading the world markets in the next several years.” So the new technology will actually force many farmers off their land and add to world hunger.

In addition to the increase in enclosure and hungry urban dwellers, the new technology may produce certain human health costs.  The genetically engineered super crops are “contaminated with pesticides, hormones, and other poisons.” These chemical additives can cause human diseases.  They also destroy the productivity of the farmland and contaminate wildlife and biodiversity in surrounding areas.  Initially, genetically engineered crops on large-scale farms seemed to be a means to feed the hungry.  However, after examining it closely, this new technology appears likely to add to the problem of world hunger, not solve it.

The development of advanced robots is another area worth examining.  Since the 1950’s, programmers have been developing advanced computers and robots.  Although the progress was initially slow, over the past few decades robotics have flourished: “Large computers’ capacities grew each decade about as much as the large nervous systems grew every hundred million years.” As these programming capacities continue to grow, programmers get closer and closer to a robot with a human-like mind.  It is important to examine the consequences of developing a fully functional robot with artificial intelligence.  

The development of these robots will make the world a more efficient place, but this efficiency may bring terrible consequences.  Robots “can make the world a nicer place to live.  At the same time, by performing better and cheaper, the robots will displace humans from essential roles.” These new robots would replace humans in many different jobs, especially jobs based on manual labor.  Although many jobs were destroyed when machines began to be used in factories, the creation of these robots will cause an even larger increase in unemployment.  Not only will this affect the livelihood of the poor class around the world, it also could give immense power to the elite class.

Kurzweil predicts that the creation of advanced robots will lead to the destruction of the poor class: “Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system.” Kurzweil goes further to state that the creation of these robots will give the elite the power to eliminate the poor class: “If the elite is ruthless they may simply decide to exterminate the mass of humanity.  If they are humane they may use propaganda or other psychological or biological techniques to reduce the birth rate until the mass of humanity becomes extinct, leaving the world to the elite.” Although Kurzweil’s prediction seems far-fetched, he makes a logical case to support the likelihood that the creation of these robots could and probably will harm the poor class.  I do not necessarily agree with Kurzweil’s prediction, but it made me think about whether we should be developing this technology in the first place.

Even though the prospect of new technologies is very interesting, it is important to examine the implications of the technologies before developing them.  Genetically engineered crops produced on large-scale farms may appear to be a great new technology that will save the world from hunger, but, after examining it, we realize it will actually create more hunger.  The creation of human-like robots could have even more dire consequences because it could lead to the destruction of numerous jobs and of the poor class entirely.  If the consequences of a technology have terrible implications, then either we have to take the necessary precautions to prevent those consequences, or perhaps we should think about not creating the technology.  This would force humanity to think ahead and understand which new technologies to develop.

Kimbrell, Biotechnology, 2

Rifkin, New Technology and the End of Jobs, 112

Kimbrell, Biotechnology, 2

Moravec, Robots, Re-Evolving Mind, 4

Ibid, 7

Joy, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us, 2

Ibid, 2

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last updated 4/9/06