#4 ‘Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, nontechnical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.’
“People think technology as an abstraction has some sort of intrinsic power, and it doesn’t,” says historian Robert C. Post, who was Prof. Kranzberg’s friend and colleague. “It has to be motivated by political power or cultural power or something else.”
Recently, representatives in Congress declared their intention to force Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and others to disclose who pays for political ads on their services, bringing them in line with TV, radio and print. These disclosures were absent from internet ad regulation not for any technical reason, but because, in 2006, the Federal Election Commission took a light touch when regulating the new medium.
More broadly, lawmakers are taking an interest in everything from privacy and data transparency to national security and antitrust issues in tech—more because of a shift in our culture than in the technology itself.
#5 ‘All history is relevant, but the history of technology is the most relevant.’
The Cold War led to the buildup of nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them anywhere on Earth. That led to the development of a war-proof communication system: the internet. Many related innovations subsequently seeped into every aspect of our lives.
But does that mean we owe the modern world to the existential contest between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R.? Or was that conflict itself driven by previous technological developments that allowed Hitler to threaten both nations?
#6 ‘Technology is a very human activity.’
“Technology is capable of doing great things,” Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook said in his 2017 commencement speech at MIT. “But it doesn’t want to do great things—it doesn’t want anything.” The point, Mr. Cook continued, is that despite its power, how we use technology is up to us.
The trick is, because technology generally reaches mass adoption via corporations, those businesses must think of the consequences of their actions as well as how they profit from them. When corporations don’t, regulators, journalists and the public sometimes do it for them.
Mr. Cook sets the tone at Apple, with his penchant for public pronouncements about how the company protects users’ data. Google has recently adopted initiatives such as “inclusive design” checklists to assure that the widest possible audience has tested new services, and antidiscrimination measures to make AI less racist. Facebook now has teams dedicated to privacy, security and safety that review new features and services before they are rolled out.
As Prof. Kranzberg presciently noted at the dawn of the internet age, “Many of our technology-related problems arise because of the unforeseen consequences when apparently benign technologies are employed on a massive scale.”
Copyright The Wall Street Journal 2017