Technologically Interacting Like Humans Do (Or Not)
David Byrne’s recent article in MIT Technology Review, Eliminating the Human, is one-sided but thought provoking.
In it Byrne dispassionately concludes that many modern "technologies" have had the impact, if not the intent, of reducing the need for person-to-person interaction.
Byrne walks us through a series of applications and their impact on social interaction including online ordering and home delivery, digital music, ride-hailing apps, driverless cars, automated checkout, AI, robots, personal assistants, big data, video games and virtual reality, automated stock buying and selling, MOOCS, and "social" media.
It's an impressive list. While his comments are admittedly one-sided he does try to objectively describe how these technologies take humans "out of the loop.".
The problem with Byrne’s discussion is that he fails for the most part to discuss both the benefits as well as the costs of these technologies. Nor does he try to reflect how societies, economies, and labor forces evolve regardless of technology. The next time we have a major nuclear accident, for example, I'll be very happy that we have radiation-resistant robots available to serve as first responders!
I do agree with his negative assessment of "social" media. I wrote something similar about this last year in Social Media Decay and Pseudo-Communication where I discusses how social media have in many cases become vehicles for fake information, one-way broadcasting, and selling disguised as "relationship building."
We should also acknowledge that our ability to predict how technologies will evolve over time has been hit or miss. Who -- including Steve Jobs -- could possibly have anticipated how smartphone technologies would become so important as communication, messaging, and interactive video devices?
I am certainly not going to classify all this "smartphone enabled interaction" as negative, even if it isn't face-to-face. Being able to see and talk with people half way around the world (or high above us in low earth orbit) is, in my opinion, a Good Thing.
Copyright 2017 by Dennis D. McDonald. A later version of this article was published in Robot Republic.