A dystopian future need not be the end result of advancing technology, according to technologists at the Wired for Wonder conference in Sydney.
“The future is not as fashionable as it was twenty years ago,” said Wired magazine co-founder, Kevin Kelly. Today, people’s visions of the future are darker and it’s “really hard” to convince them of a bright future, he said.
The pace of technology advancement contributes to the challenge, he said. “It gets harder and harder to talk about the future because it’s accelerating so much faster.
“Every new tech that comes along forces you to rethink what it means to be human.”
However, Kelly said it is possible to be positive about technology if one focuses on how it can open more possibilities and create new freedoms.
It’s easy to see technology as an evil, according to Aleks Krotoski, an academic who hosts BBC Radio 4’s The Digital Human science series.
“The danger that we fall in is to blame technology for ills and to celebrate technology for great good,” she said.
In reality, technology is a “mirror of us”, she said. “Anything that we think it is doing to us, we are actually doing to one another.”
However, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier said he’s “struggling to find a way to be humanistic” about technology. People tend to define technology as something “cold and cruel”, he said.
It can be hard not to see it that way, especially given computers’ role in the recent economic crisis, he said. In that case, the people with the biggest computers were able to exploit the less fortunate, he said.
Also, while Google can be similar to a library because it is a resource of information, it requires a different tradeoff of data, said Lanier. “The difference between Google and the library is you’re not being spied on in the library.”
Kelly noted the Internet’s normalising effect on the strange. For example, the most watched videos on YouTube are of people doing out-of-the-ordinary things, he said.
“The Internet emphasises and exaggerates the abnormal to make it normal,” he said.
He said greater digital literacy and education is the way to go to get people to bring proper context to the technology they use and receive a more positive result.
Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam
Read more: Authors beware: computers can write fables