The course of human history has been defined, in large part, by the tension between twocontrasting perspectives: that of thetech pessimist, who fears the uncharted territory that technology could lead us into, and thetech optimist, who envisions a world transformed by the miraculous capabilities of our inventions.
The Promises of Technology
Historically,state fair exhibitions and the vivid imaginings of science fiction enticed us with a vision of the future that was almost romantic. Corporate marketers promised us household appliances that would eradicate the drudgery of daily life and vehicles that would usher us into a new age of convenience. The dream was simple yet profound: in the future, our advanced tools would allow us more leisure, universal contentment, and global harmony as they met everyone's basic needs.
To a significant extent, technoheads delivered on many of those promises. The modern smartphone exemplifies the strides we've made. It's a communication device and a multipurpose tool that doubles as a camcorder, calculator, encyclopedia, music library, and much more. We revel in the benefits of electric vehicles, smart appliances, and groundbreaking medical equipment.
Yet, alongside these technological marvels, we grapple with persistent societal challenges.
Staggering income inequality, foods riddled with carcinogens, and an educational system that often leaves our youth unprepared to discern fact from fiction highlight that while we've mastered technology, we have not yet mastered the art of equitable and holistic progress.
The emergent potential of generative AI further deepens this dichotomy. Its capabilities are undeniable. While remarkable, automation of tasks through platforms like Grammarly, Jasper, and the enhanced Microsoft suite has double-edged implications. For instance, AI expands and makes nearly bionic workers, which can lead to either greater convenience or an inescapable cycle oftoxic productivity.
A nagging question tempers my optimism for what technology can achieve: Will these advancements make life qualitatively better for all people equally? Or will they merely compound existing societal divisions? The early days of the internet promised the democratization of information, yet not all segments of society reaped their benefits uniformly. A glaring lack of diversity in tech ominously hints at the pitfalls that might shadow AI's proliferation.
However, there is a blueprint for navigating the impending tech surge.
Navigating the Tech Surge
First and foremost, we must prioritize education, ensuring everyone understands the depth and breadth of AI's influence. Simultaneously, we should empower our youth to be active participants, molding and benefitting from the AI landscape. This involves teaching them about the entrepreneurial and investment avenues AI opens up.
Most crucially, we need to champion algorithmic inclusion. The biases of the physical world should not be replicated in our digital realm. Whether it's search engines that default to white-centric results or technology that inadvertently perpetuates biases, the early stages of tech development should be vigilant in ensuring equitable representation and functionality.
With all its promise and uncertainty, the future beckons us whether we like it or not.
Technology, as always, will be at the forefront of this journey. But it is imperative to remember tech alone does not shape our destiny. Our choices, values, and the principles we stand by will determine whether we leverage technology for the collective good or let it exacerbate existing disparities. The history of the future, ultimately, is ours to write.
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of
brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...