Tech Rules Us – Will It Ruin Us?

We love our gadgets, apps, and Internet. We use them, they rule us. This isn’t an alternative fact, and your skepticism won’t save you.

Director James Cameron, discussing the relevance of The Terminator stories, in which technology evolves to the point of logically concluding humans must die, said recently: “if Terminator was about the war between the humans and the machines, look around any restaurant or airport lounge and tell me the machines haven’t won when every human you see is enslaved to their device.”

Can you deny that?

While we’re glued to screens, the tech industry is now gaga over voice controlled gadgets, mainly Amazon’s Echo. These are tools that put new powers into the hands — err, voices — of users. Except we humans can’t bend them to our wills. Instead, we bend to Echo’s. Unless you follow the verbal rules to a T and pre-plan your spoken instructions, Alexa — your “intelligent” assistant inside the Echo — is rendered idiotic by the equivalent of a misplaced aural comma.

Meanwhile, it seems those who are getting the hang of conversing with these mini monuments of plastic and processors are being conditioned in another way.

To be sure, these points are merely anecdotal evidence of tech’s dominion over us. For a more comprehensive view of what our tech ambitions have wrought, Bruce Schneier provides a must read. He gives a ton of gems to think about (including “JPMorgan Chase spends half a billion on cybersecurity a year”, which if true raises questions about the productivity gains that tech can actually deliver). But most importantly he paints a portrait of how deeply tech flows through the veins of the modern world, tying our physical world together in a vulnerable, disorganized, and mis-incentivized web. It’s all a neat story, except when it goes wrong accidentally or on purpose it has life and death consequences.

Thankfully, Schneier provides sane, detailed, and much-needed suggestions on how we can avoid a dystopian-like takedown by our own inventions. The industry, consumers, and policymakers all owe it to themselves to follow up.

Until then, we’ll continue to juggle hand grenades: