You cannot opt-out of technological change – what should you do?

Blog post

Technological change is inevitable and we have limited control on future. We should accept the fact that our technological surroundings change rapidly and have an honest discussion on what we want.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Stephen Hawking

We have a problematic relationship with technological change. We are overly optimistic in the short term. In the long-term, we are pessimistic about how technology will advance and benefit humans. Technological development is intimidating, but we gladly enjoy the everyday benefits of technology. We can only try to envision the future; maybe nudge it towards a path we prefer, but there is no opting-out from technological change.

Even though technology is created by humans and, in a sense, in our control, I argue that humans are unable to say that this is as far as we will go. We cannot take back something once invented, and we have little control of all the ways a technology is used. Stephen Hawking portrayed this resulting in a dark future for humans. Is there nothing we can do?

I think we need to accept technological change. Like water to fish, technologies are so embedded in our lives that we do not even notice them. Unlike fish, our surroundings change, and we need to adapt to a continuously changing environment. For individuals this requires adapting, for example, to the idea that you will have a social media presence even if you personally do not use applications like Facebook or Instagram. For industry, it means that both processes and products are going to be substituted by newer technology that is more efficient. Hawking’s argument was that in the future humans will lose their ability to adapt.

We adapt through generations. For individuals, we clearly see the generation gap in the usage of new technology. For industry, only 12 percent of the most valuable companies in 1955 exist today and many of the most valuable companies today were all born through recent technological disruptions.

The most significant means of control we have towards technological change is try to understand, educate and discuss about technological futures. Not being overly pessimistic or optimistic, but honestly valuing benefits with disadvantages. This can keep humans up to date.