The role of technology is under attack

Whether it is the oligopoly of big web platforms, the threat to privacy from data barons or the risks to jobs and humanity from artificial intelligence, the idea of technical progress is under fire. It should not be.


NUCLEAR bombs can destroy us. Facebook undermines our privacy. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots can enslave us (or, worse, take our jobs). Synthetic biology and gene-editing have humans playing God. Social media make us depressed: we’ve never been so connected yet never so alone.

Those are just a few of the complaints levelled against technology. For most of human history, however, technology was mostly seen as a force for good. More people would live because of technical progress, from refrigeration to vaccination, than perish because of it, despite lethal inventions such as gunpowder. Technology was viewed as the fruit of open inquiry and debate, and its advance was broadly welcomed. More was better.