The 4 Universal Precepts of Information Technologies
Ever since we climbed down out of the trees and figured out how to create technology and with some of those technologies, such as writing, expand our knowledge, we’ve known that all technology is both good and bad. A bronze axe could feed your family and provide shelter. It could also cleave in the skull of your enemies. A smartphone too can help feed your family and through social media, can ruin someones day or promote civil unrest. It’s a trade-off humans have made and continue to live with.
And some technologies have been invented for one reason and end up being used for another. My favourite example is the telephone. Alexander Bell didn’t invent it so people could have long chinwags at great distances. He invented it to share opera music with the world. The man who invented the switchboard for phones didn’t invent it to help make phone systems work better, he did it because he suspected his wife was having an affair with another funeral director that was his competitor.
The technologies that have created some of the biggest shifts in human society down the millennia are those around communication. The invention of the printing press lead to the Christian Reformation and more universities. The telegraph and radio lead to World War 1 and the telephone helped World War II along. With the invention of Information Theory by Claude E. Shannon we figured out clever ways to drop bombs and we enabled the advancement of Information Technologies.
Today, Information Technologies are intrinsically part of the woof and warp of our world. Where for millennia humans were augmented by physical technologies, humanity is now being cognitively augmented through Information Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and software applications.
These Information Technologies are again changing our world. Blockchain and cryptocurrency will change our global financial system. Social Media is helping humanity organize and communicate on an unprecedented scale, while it is also disrupting how we organize our societies, for good and bad. Artificial Intelligence is helping to save lives through disease detection and creating better medicines. It is also being used in weapons to kill people more efficiently.
So profound are these Information Technologies in our world and society, that it is time that we, as a species, take the lessons learned from other technologies and develop some rules. Or what I have termed as The Precepts of Information Technologies. Free market Libertarians will cringe and swat such a notion away, the far-left may seek duanting and unobtainable regulations. Instead, we need to find a balance. Here’s my initial draft of these precepts on which to build. They are simply proposed. There are ethicists and regulators developing guidelines and rules, but they are largely done in the vertical area of interest such as AI, cryptocurrency, robotics and biotechnology. I argue that we should an overarching set of precepts that can apply, in various ways across all Information Technologies.
The Four Universal Precepts of Information Technologies
1. Dual Purposes: All Information Technology is a double-edged sword and can be used for good or bad. Even a small software application, like Twitter or Tik Tok can be used in ways good and bad.
2. Unintended Consequences: Neither Facebook nor Twitter’s founders could have predicted how their software would be used, but here we are. We did not know Big Data could also be used to manipulate human behaviours like Cambridge Analytica did. Apple didn’t know it’s Watch would end up saving peoples lives.
3. Sociocultural Consideration: All Information Technologies have an impact on societies, be it a small business or a whole country. They can lead to behavioural and massive economic changes.
4. Species Survival: Information Technologies are critical for the survival of our species. AI for instance, can, perhaps also with quantum computing, help us find the answers to save our planet, get is to Mars and extend our lifespan. But as with numbers one and two, they can destroy us.
Not all Information Technologies will have profound impacts, but these precepts can be used by a startup or even Big Tech, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as a framework at the start of an idea or even with current products and services that are made as Information Technologies or will incorporate them.
Because we govern our societies and cultures through information and it is Information Technologies that enable greater knowledge, sharing and coordination, we need precepts. We will always augment our physical selves, but it now as we increasingly augment ourselves cognitively, that we need to be more aware and take greater precautions with how we govern and use Information Technologies. For it is the human mind that is an astounding and formidable organic information technology.
Is there a precept that you’d add? Do we, as a society, need to govern Information Technologies better?