One Big Thing: On Techno-solutionism
I came across the Crazy/Genius (from The Atlantic) podcast last week, and they had a thought-provoking discussion with computer scientist and data journalist, Meredith Broussard (@merbroussard). The theme was techno-chauvinism, which is sort of a beefed-up version techno-solutionism. Basically, the monolithic thought process that inevitably leads to something like, "New technology can and will fix this problem," as a solution to most everything.
I'm still bullish on innovation as a net benefit. There's a separate, and vitally important, discussion to be had about the king-making we do as a society with startups - usually based largely on outsized valuations. But look at education, look at modern medicine, accessibility, and the any number of ways our lives have improved because of the Internet.
The discussion is clearly changing around the consequences of rapid technological innovation - look no further than last two years for Facebook for reference. People are talking about data security, troll culture, and other ills of the connected world as never before. Think back to, say...2010. Facebook was growing, Twitter was ascendant, and the praise and reverence stacked up. Let's face it - things have changed. This is because people like Meredith Broussard are discussing them very publicly.
A great example she brings up is autonomous vehicles.
Autonomous vehicles (buses and cars) are going to become the norm in congested urban areas in the very near future. As Broussard notes, women have spent centuries trying to avoid uncomfortable situations with strange men - and autonomous ride shares could result in countless encounters like this. A bus without a bus driver is a fundamentally different environment - there's no referee should something go wrong. A pool-share taxi without a taxi driver is the same (to be sure, ride-sharing hasn't had a perfect run in terms of security - especially in India where there countless cases of drivers assaulting women).
She's 100% right. But, it's still early days and the mere fact that this discussion is happening now is a good thing. At the moment, there are instances of autonomous vehicles being put to practice, but the technology is not there yet, and our cities are certainly not there yet.
If we can shape the policy debate now about the situations that rise from a more autonomous world, we can ensure that the benefits outpace the negatives. Those discussions are happening now, and I encourage everyone to share their concerns with an interface-based reality. It's a good thing. It will help us get this closer to right.
- Sree (writing from Chicago on my way home after hearing Prof. Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame speak at PrathamUSA's Chicago gala and hearing Dr. Jill Biden and ocean exploring legend Sylvia Earle speak at the Aquarium of the Bay's gala. All three were super inspiring and you can read my tweets about them here. And also see my notes from two days in LA and Sharon Waxman's #TheGrill2018 conference here).
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