Noam Chomsky on Technology
Joe Hanson at the It’s Ok to Be Smart Tumblr posted a Noam Chomsky quote from Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?. It is a collection of questions asked by children and answered by some of the smartest people alive. In Chomsky’s case the question was about technology. Specifically, Chomsky was asked whether technology was always good, to which he replied:
“Technology is usually fairly neutral. It’s like a hammer, which can be used to build a house or to destroy someone’s home. The hammer doesn’t care. It is almost always up to us to determine whether the technology is good or bad.”
Unsurprisingly, it is a brilliant answer. People have a tendency to see technology as good or bad when it is neither. It can be put to good or bad purposes, but it is really a question of whether the user is good or bad and not the tool. Remember that, if you wanted to, you could claim that computers were inherently bad because of identity theft and fraud. To make that claim though you’d have to ignore all of the positive benefits and potential of computers. Technologies such as genetic engineering / genetic modification and artificial intelligence generally inspire fear in people, but both technologies could be used to vastly improve the human condition.
The technologies I’ve mentioned, and others, are coming. They will become more and more pervasive over time. Simply saying “it’s bad and I don’t want it” will not make it go away. We have to be grown up about these things and do our best to understand how the technology works, what potential it has and then think about what good can come of it, what precautions should be taken and what uses should be banned outright.