Technological revolution

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Technological revolution is a dramatic social change in important structures brought about relatively quickly by the introduction of some new technology. Past examples are the introduction of agriculture, the invention of the movable type printing process, the atomic bomb and the Internet. Since technological revolutions have brought many of the major revolutions in human history and have very large long-term consequences, ethical assessment of the desirability of possible future technological revolutions is a very important topic. Nick Bostrom shows that since the Wikipedia: Age of Enlightenment, freedom from society judgment and ethical evaluations has been seen as a necessary condition for science and technological developments[1]. Recently, as negative impacts of technological developments became evident, many theorists have expressed concern with this view. Henceforth, an ethical analysis of technological development has been called for and this gave birth to new research fields such as bioethics, computer ethics, neuroethics and nanoethics.

However, Bostrom argues that “Ethical assessment in the incipient stages of a potential technological revolution faces several difficulties, including the unpredictability of their long‐term impacts, the problematic role of human agency in bringing them about, and the fact that technological revolutions rewrite not only the material conditions of our existence but also reshape culture and even – perhaps– human nature”. The potential power to directly rewrite human nature through technology is complete new. All past technological revolutions have been brought by altering the way we relate to the natural world, not to ourselves. For the first time fundamental constants of human nature (e.g.: mortality, memory, cognition, mood and physical capacities) can be subject to change[2]. Other technological changes, such as a possible Singularity, promise not only a complete change in human nature but in the long term fate of sentient beings.

Many economists and sociologists have dedicated several papers to try to model and predict the social changes from possible future technologies. Robin Hanson has made an analysis of how whole brain emulation techonologies would deliver a malthusian scenario of subsistence-level existence[3]. He also constructs a prediction market given machine intelligence and argues for a dramatic wage fall in the future [4]. James Hughes has argue that only a democratic transhumanism that ensures a liberal, equal and safe use of future technologies can bring all the potentialities of technological development [5]. Francesco Caselli demonstrates that technological revolutions can worsen inequality by bringing "absolute gains for those individuals with high cognitive ability, and absolute losses for those with high costs of learning"[6], but also provide an incentive for everyone to join the ‘learning pool’.

References

  1. Bostrom, Nick. (2007) "Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Policy in the Dark" Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century, eds. Nigel M. de S. Cameron and M. Ellen Mitchell (John Wiley, 2007): pp. 129-152. Available at: http://www.nickbostrom.com/revolutions.pdf
  2. Savulescu, Julian & Meulen, Rudd ter (orgs.) “Enhancing Human Capacities”. Wiley-Blackwell. 2011
  3. Hanson, Robin. (1994) "IF UPLOADS COME FIRST: The crack of a future dawn" Extropy 6:2 (1994). Available at: http://hanson.gmu.edu/uploads.html
  4. Hanson, Robin. "Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence" http://hanson.gmu.edu/aigrow.pdf
  5. Hughes, James (2004). "Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future." Westview Press
  6. Caselli, Francesco. 1999. "Technological Revolutions." American Economic Review, 89(1): 78–102. DOI:10.1257/aer.89.1.78.Availabe at: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/casellif/papers/techrev.pdf