Tags: Carr | technology | robots | computer

Panel Looks at Future of Technology

By    |   Thursday, 13 Nov 2014 08:11 AM

Robotic drivers, drone delivery, robots as the next stage of human evolution — a panel of authors who have written about the future of technology gave their views recently at the Boston Book Festival.

Introducing the panel on "Technology: Promise and Peril," Sacha Pfeiffer of Boston's WBUR radio station promised differing views on the future, and the voice over suggested that a debate was in store. She decided that the optimists, David Rose and Andy McAfee, both of MIT, would speak first, and Nick Carr, the house pessimist would be saved for last, something for this writer to look forward to.

Rose, author of Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things, began with a short video to illustrate ideas he discusses in the book. He described "enchanted objects" as objects that perform the same functions as they used to, except that now that are connected and can communicate, so they have become "ordinary things that have extraordinary capabilities." He said, using the word "impact," that the enchanted objects might not have addressed diction yet, but they will affect health, transportation, and housing in a positive way.

McAfee, author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, quipped that he had spent the last year referred to as "the Dr. Doom of technological progress" yet was considered an optimist on this panel.

From his perspective the advent of powerful technology dates back to steam power in the late 18th century and has continued ever since. Before that time there had been virtually no advancement in human civilization for thousands of years. He characterized the "Second Machine Age" as man overcoming the limitations of mind as the first machine age overcame the limitations of body. He sees this as "the best economic news" for the foreseeable future. The "Dr. Doom" moniker comes from the fact that this will be very bad news for unskilled laborers.

Carr, author of The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, summed up the "optimistic case" as, "In the future, you won't have a job, but you'll have a really cool umbrella." He traced factory automation back to the 1950s, but he could have gone further than that. Carr cited the work of Harvard's James Bright, who studied the impact of this industrialization in the late 1950s as debunking the notion that automation would elevate the skills of workers. The reason this does not work out is that the skills of the worker can be built into the machinery. Carr derided modern professional workers as mere "computer operators, . . . people who are watching screens or inputting data into screens," much as this writer is doing right now.

Carr suggested that readers look at technology in a different way from measurement of its economy and efficiency, rather as means of production and consumption. He urged that consumers of computer technology demand that applications be signed "to enrich our experience rather than to impoverish it." The result should then be a world better suited to human beings than to robots. This writer asks, what if the next state of human evolution is, in fact, the robot?

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
Robotic drivers, drone delivery, robots as the next stage of human evolution — a panel of authors who have written about the future of technology gave their views recently at the Boston Book Festival.
Carr, technology, robots, computer
533
2014-11-13
Thursday, 13 Nov 2014 08:11 AM
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