Where Is Technology Taking Us?

Where Is Technology Taking Us?

Hares Youssef

Rapid technological progress may seem disorienting, but it will eventually help us optimize resource distribution, solve global problems, and transcend the boundaries that divide us.

The path of nature is evolution: over time, every species will evolve to better adapt to their changing environment. From the human perspective, evolution is an exceedingly slow process, plodding along for millions of years and introducing gradual change in the planet’s biodiversity.

Like nature, humanity also has its own path: progress. But unlike evolution, technological progress is developing at breakneck speeds. It happens so quickly that we can barely make sense of what is going on around us. New projects are launched before the old projects are even finished. The computer you bought last year may already be obsolete today. The path of progress is highly unpredictable. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, it often appears to be occurring outside of human control.

Unsurprisingly, this creates a sense of danger from technological progress, fear, and mistrust. And the way technological developments change our society — think about the effects of social media on human communication — understandably become a target for criticism. Despite such critiques, progress — like the passage of time — continues to speed onward. Technology is the train in which we are riding, and it will take us where it is going, whether we like it or not. We might as well get as much as we can out of the ride.

Although they are made up of hundreds or thousands of individuals, bee and ant colonies have a common mind and memory, and they are capable of acting cohesively. Human beings do not possess anywhere near those sorts of collective capabilities. Still, the aggregated actions of individuals do add up to form the events that are occurring around us. And these events drive individuals to take new actions. That process can often lead to a circular cycle that lacks a clear direction or mechanism of control. Most of the problems in the world — and there are many of them — can find their genesis in this cycle. If we are stuck with a subpar reality, it may well be because of our lack of understanding of how to properly direct human activity to produce the best outcomes for humanity. And so the cycle continues.

Technology can replicate this cycle but instead, we should have hope that it can help us escape that cycle. Certainly, new innovations do not typically improve the world on their own. We can see that from our daily experiences. But if oriented correctly, technology can help us to choose the direction in which we as a society (or a planet wide collective) should move and to understand the formula for the manner in which we should relate to our environment.

In the future, as technology develops, I believe that we will invent a superior system for controlling the economic and financial organization of society. Imagine a computer — or synthetic brain, if you will — capable of calculating the net cost of producing any object. This system would be able to tell us more efficiently what we need to produce and what we shouldn’t produce. And it would determine the best economic and financial course for us to take, making calculations far beyond the capabilities of any single human mind. To put it another way, imagine if the distribution of resources and goods could be managed scientifically to achieve the optimal result. Imagine if we could abandon our current, “old fashioned” approach for the allocation of scarce resources and create a happier, healthier and more efficient world. All this will eventually become possible with technology.

It is difficult to overemphasize how important such developments will be. All of human activity can be termed “economy”. When we produce or consume goods, we are generating money. But this money is not literal “currency”. Rather, it is value. This distinction is important. Currency carries the information of money, but not all currency is money. For example, in recent years, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have appeared. Now, people engage Bitcoin mining — a concept nearly as old as humanity that is applied to a new technological environment — and one unit of the cryptocurrency is valued at over $16,000. But while Bitcoin may technically be currency, it is certainly not a traditional for money (or fiat currency). It remains amorphous and unclear, and its main value seems to be serving as an alternative to more mainstream forms of currency and repository of value. This new currency remains susceptible to cyber attack and its global regulatory framework remains unclear. The case of Bitcoin helps to demonstrate why it is dangerous to create a currency that does not produce value: it provides no benefits.

As technology grows, it will allow us to better calculate and understand how to produce and distribute value. I also believe it will help us to predict problems and negative events that may arise in the future before they ever happen. This will give us a foundation for precise decision making that we currently lack. Naturally, the solutions to these prob-lems and the optimal economic organization of society will transcend the boundaries of states, nations, races, and religions. I believe this will lead to a better world.

Although we are born biologically as homo sapiens, it is culture that makes us human. We define ourselves as people within our society’s cultural framework. Yet culture is only one level of our identity. As technology advances and grants us the ability to optimize our world, it will also lead us to transcend our constitutive identities and to recognize that our highest affiliation is with the human race. In today’s world of conflicts between states, ethnicities, religions, and myriad other identities, this can only be a positive development.

Some may say that this all seems unlikely. But we should recognize that technology has changed so drastically in the last fifty years, that an individual in 1960 would hardly be able to imagine the year 2017. I am reminded of a modern fable about a scientific experiment carried out on monkeys. According to the tale, scientists put a banana at the top of a flight of stairs in a room with five monkeys. But each time a monkey would climb up to retrieve the banana, the scientists would spray the rest of the monkeys with cold water. Soon, if any monkey so much as attempted to climb the stairs, the others would pull him down and beat him. Eventually, all the monkeys stopped climbing the stairs.

Soon, the scientists decided to change the monkeys in the room. First, they replaced one monkey with a new one. The new monkey began to climb the stairs, but the others quickly pulled him down and beat him. Gradually, the scientists replaced each remaining monkey. Each time they replaced a monkey, the same scene repeated — until, eventually, there were five new monkeys in the room. None of them dared attempt to get the banana, but none also understood the reason for their inhibition.

The lesson of this story is clear: We are limited by what we know and by old customs. The accepted behaviors, practices, and realities of our lives often appear to represent the extent of what is possible. We follow and repeat them through inertia.

But technology is also developing through a kind of inertia. Yes, it can be disorganized and chaotic, but it is relentlessly moving forward. And it will bring developments that, right now, we can hardly imagine. I look forward to these new possibilities and the improvements they will bring.

Hares Youssef is the Publisher of The Odessa Review.