Friday, January 3, 2014

Problems With Technology

At an academic meeting recently, a research professor in the philosophy department of Sogang University was shocked to hear about 'wet-life' and 'dry life', about a future time when humans will not need water to live.  The "new humans" will not die and will be freed from their biological bodies and given man-made parts, while at the same time keeping all the faculties of human consciousness: memory, intelligence, and feelings. She reflects on this possibility  in a  recent issue of the Peace Weekly.

On the first day of Lent, she says, ashes are placed on our foreheads to remind us that we will die. We look over our lives humbly and make plans to do better in the future and realize the need for virtue. Our dignity as humans comes from this moral base. Would it be possible, she wonders, for humans freed from death to live a moral life?  Without fear of punishment and judgment for the evil we do, would we be sufficiently motivated to live such a life? If the meaning of life becomes deeper and more urgent because of our encounter with death, then we might ask ourselves, she says, whether the possibility of life without death is a blessing or a curse.

For the professor, freeing humanity from death is a frightening thought. Expecting a moral life from immortal humans, she feels, would be too difficult. The philosophers Heidegger, Hans Jonas, Erich Fromm, and Vittorio Hosle saw, with trepidation, that the marvels of technological innovations was making man think of himself as possessing God-like powers.  Humans, by thinking they can make anything through the power of technology, are in danger of rejecting their shared humanity. And, today, there appears to be no way we can restrain the power of technology, which threatens to take over our lives. Enormous sums of money are poured into the technological sector of our economy,  and we can hold no one responsible.

She gives us an example of what she means by citing a personal experience. One night while sleeping, she heard a banging. She got out of bed and went out to the balcony. The banging was coming from the next door apartment. She called out: "What's the problem?"  A voice expressing urgency answered: "I'm locked here in the veranda, please help!"  The professor had recently moved in and had not made the acquaintance of the new family.  After much difficulty, she was able to enter the apartment.  The woman, who had locked herself out on the balcony, was shivering  from the cold. The automatic door lock system had operated smoothly and could not be unlocked once anyone entered the balcony, unless set manually to do so.

Who was to blame? the professor asks. She was not able to get angry. The door was doing what it was made to do. There was no one who was responsible for what happened. This is one example of how we become enslaved by technology. Technology becomes automatic and autonomous and we have no one, she says, that we can hold responsible for its failures.  One big fear is that we can't expect any moral sensitivity from technology. Isn't this a reason to be frightened by the trust we have given all too quickly to the technological advances rapidly changing our lives?
Technology doesn't fear anything. For us to be without fear, however, can be dangerous, she says. Some fears are virtues that enable us to live noble lives--fears that superficial humanity is unaware of.  Before we continue to sit back and watch the development of this fearsome technology, we need to ask ourselves if it is wise to go ahead with technology, without imposing any conditions.

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