The Future, The Hype

I find myself conflicted. As a long time technical writer living through many software start-ups and several larger established and successful companies such as Autodesk and Moment Factory, I was almost forced de facto to buy into the hype of the future. That is, to believe in the prevailing Silicon Valley ethos of technology as saviour.

Once again it has seemed that this belief would not go unrewarded when some years back we witnessed live Skype translation, seemingly true driverless cars by Google, even this amazing augmented reality app called World Lens that translates text right in context that has to be seen to be believed.

At the same time nothing is ever so straightforward as issues such as privacy and the growing gap between the tech-haves and the tech-have-nots that put a definitive damper on much of the unexamined tech hype.

An article by Rick Searle, for example, examines well much of the renewed hype around artificial intelligence which has seen companies snapped up and large new investments made by tech’s bigwigs. Searle manges to punch big holes in the hype—most pointedly illustrating that Google’s approach to self-driving cars, which boils down to the mass processing of big data, does not result in anything close to what an average sixteen-year old can do behind the wheel.

Indeed Searle, this time writing on his own blog Utopia or Dystopia, describes much of the current tech hype, and the companies behind it, as perpetrators of a kind of coup—whereby they swoop into industry after industry, reshaping them to their benefit, all the while hallowing them out of human labour, with not that much efficiency gained at the end of the day.

On a similarly pessimistic note is a group called Dark Mountain, whose raison-d’être was news to me: They are a kind of environmental group whose Manifesto actually posits that we are already too late and that we should collectively resign ourselves to the coming environmental collapse and probably imminent extinction of the entire human species in short order. As dire as Dark Mountain seems, their beliefs do seem to square with a couple of books I have read several years ago on overpopulation, Countdown by Alan Weisman, and 10 Billion by Stephen Emmott.

It seems to me though that the antidote to too much overblown tech hype is not necessarily defeatist gloom and doom. However, any realistic approach to understanding technological innovation and how it is truly affecting our lives should also always consider economic and environmental implications. These seem de jure to be missing, always, from the next best thing.


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