Are Science Fiction Fears About Technology Reasonable?

Science fiction offers strange futuristic views of technology. Some are positive, but most lean towards dystopia. Are technological fears portrayed in science fiction reasonable?

As a species, humans adapt technologies blindly with the hope of achieving promised benefits. We rarely consider societal impact. This is a huge issue, in my opinion. Technology itself doesn’t destroy or evolve societies, rather human use of advanced tools is the culprit.

Some science fiction books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 waver between utopian and dystopian views. Science fiction offers us the opportunity to debate whether or not we will destroy ourselves with technology.

Is such dialogue pure fear of change? Or do they remind that we always forget the lessons of the past?

In the case of robotics, the decades old dialogue started by Isaac Asimov’s robot novels has been greatly beneficial. We have been actively trying to build artificial intelligence that will become useful to society while not becoming malevolent a la The Terminator.

But we are not always so forward thinking. Applied to the Internet we do all sorts of neat things like give ourselves access to incredible amounts of information and publishing tools. Then we do things like strip away privacy and quantify human worth and status using tools like Empire Avenue and PeerIndex.

In my book Exodus, Book One of The Fundamentalists I began with a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a biotechnology terror, a direct result of weaponized viruses. This narrative device allowed me to create a world where people avoided technology and religion for centuries, in favor of an agrarian utopia. Throughout the trilogy I debate whether we as a species can use spiritual ideas and technology tools peacefully.

I have to tell you that by the end of the trilogy, technology makes a big come back as a means of defense against fundamentalism. Humans end up using both to create power structures to benefit themselves and dominate other people. And in other cases, people use these very different tools to help each other.

Because that’s who we are, at least right now. I really believe that a portion of the population will always fall to primitive negative actions, and others will rise above. The combination creates volatility.

Why do I have this view? Human beings are complicated, and create conflict. While some people are altruistic or generally good in design, we are all to some extent self-motivated. War itself is something that is a result of modern agricultural and political structures, say researchers. Even when we are not at war, we compete with each other, on an individual basis and with other nations to create the most prosperity and status.

Anyone who thinks the United States is not competing with China from a technological perspective is crazy. How many private incidents of cyberwarfare occur without our knowledge? It’s not like the Pentagon or major companies want to admit how often they are getting attacked.

Furthering blind adoption of tools, technology has proven to be a huge economic driver. Consider the way we encourage technological development in Silicon Valley and beyond? IPOs and acquisitions drive the the tech sector.

Just last month we saw Google purchase Nest for an astounding amount to empower the Internet of Things. Society will certainly reap the economic benefits of data. But are individuals and communities ready for a coming wave of metric-based vanity that determines their place in society?

So you see, I really do think the human application of technology is a worthwhile discussion. Without foresight, it can become quite destructive. What do you think?

Featured image by Mark Beemink. A version of this post ran originally on to read, or not to read.

Why Tech Already Has Women (And Why They’re Better Than Arrington)

UPDATE: Robert Scoble believes our comments are taken out of context, and has offered this Cincast on his views about women in tech. We appreciate Mr. Scoble’s participation in this important topic, and wish to encourage all parties to discuss the matter.

UPDATE: Robert Scoble has shared his thoughts on Women in Tech. You can view his take here.

Women of WiFi, after Caillebotte

Image: “Women of WiFi, after Caillebotte” by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

by Danny Brown and Geoff Livingston (Cross posted on Danny’s blog)

Contrary to Violet Blue’s disappointing stance about women in tech in 2010, this year saw a terrible new trend, the outright enforcement of the glass ceiling in technology.  First there was Michael Arrington’s terribly ignorant rant, followed verbally by the likes by Robert Scoble and Ms. Blue, as well as the visual use of boobs to sell copies of WIRED by Chris Anderson and crew.

Before opining too much, here are some statistics for you (the first three were originally cited by Allyson Kapin in Fast Company):

In spite of the statistical advantages of women in tech, negative trends towards male speakers and executive leadership continue. Worse, reading this negative enforcement of sexism in tech has been a damn shame. Working with great women in tech — Susan Murphy, Beth Kanter,  Kami Huyse, Allyson Kapin, Amber MacArthur, Sarah Prevette, Lisa Kalandjian and Cali Lewis to name a few this year — has been a phenomenal experience for both of us, and they demonstrate every day how brilliant and capable they are.

In fact, these women are better than the likes of Arrington and crew, because they would never allow themselves to demean an entire race, gender or religious sect of people on the Internet.  Even if they had such feelings (which we doubt), they would rise above this kind of baseless attack to offer solutions.

Then again, perhaps that shouldn’t come across as too surprising. TechCrunch is hardly the purveyor of common sense and good “fights,” as they’ve shown continuously in the past with their attacks on PR, CEOs, bloggers – basically anyone who doesn’t bow to Arrington’s missives.

There are certainly issues for women, as pointed out by Allyson Kapin in the above articles as well as many other women who discuss this issue. Men have a role in it, too, as evidenced by this year’s newest glass blowing experiences.  Moving forward, men need to be more active about providing solutions to create a more level playing field. For example:

  • Actively support women in business, both through choices of partners, vendors and employees, and in promotion.
  • Support men and women trying to help women.  Whether it’s Girls, Inc., supporting female entrepreneurs abroad, efforts to highlight Women Who Tech, or a host of other efforts, support women.
  • Stop trashing and reacting to women trying to succeed.  Rather than get into throw downs about how women create their own problems in tech — or worse revert to past bad practices like conferences for men — work to create an inclusive balanced playing field for every human being.
  • If you are a man and you don’t like these types of actions against women — posts, magazine articles, speaking rosters — say something. When both genders actively voice dissatisfaction in this matter, it becomes a powerful statement.
  • Instead of supporting old structures for speaking — such as soliciting speaking submissions from chest beating male A-Listers — build an editorial mission for the conference, and seek out great male and female speakers beyond the comfortable and immediate social network.
  • Stop thinking with the mindset that “women” and “success” are two words that – together – are news, and start thinking it’s the norm.
  • Think of the challenges your great-grandmother, grandmother and (possibly) your mother went through to be someone. Then ask if you’d want that still, and add your wife or daughter into the mix. Would you want them to be viewed as “unique” because of their industry choice? And that’s “unique” in a negative way, not in a good one-of-a-kind way.

To be fair, this isn’t an isolated issue with the technology sector. Think of a lot of industries, and you’ll find that women are often viewed as second-best to their male counterparts. They may have won the vote but it’s clear that women still trail men when it comes to advancement, recognition and financial reward compared to their male peers in too many industries.

But it’s even more evident in the technology sector, where too many geek overlords want to keep the sandpit for themselves, and maybe the women can solder a chip or connect a conference call between the male kingfishers.

And it’s just plain stupid. For every Michael Arrington there’s a Bindi Karia; for every Robert Scoble, there’s a Gina Trapani; for every Chris Anderson there’s a Stephanie Agresta. And with new innovators being sponsored to come through from India, and developing countries making women and technology one of their key focuses, these names (and others like them) will only be added to.

Frankly, an argument can be made that most of the modern gender imbalance issues are rooted in men not consciously looking for great women, as opposed to them not existing. 2011 can be a year where forward progress can be made — by both women and men.  Let’s hope the community joins together in working towards that goal.  Given how great women are in business, why wouldn’t you?

About Danny Brown

For readers who aren’t familiar with Danny, he is co-founder and partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service marketing agency offering integrated , social media and mobile marketing solutions and applications. He’s also the founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a community-driven social media charity initiative to connect globally and help locally that’s raised over $100,000 since inception in 2009. His top ranked blog is featured in the AdAge Power 150 list as well as Canada’s Top 50 Marketing Blogs, and won the Hive Award for Best Social Media Blog at the 2010 South by South West festival.