Technological Optimism - Open Space Technology Breakout Session

    Posted by David Marshall

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    Technological Optimism  - Open Space led by Gerald Harris 
    (participants: Ira Chaleff, Eileen Zar, Karen Phelan)

    It was a wide-ranging conversation.  Here are just a few highlights: 

    Opportunities: 

    Gerald - There are more scientists and researchers living today and communicating over the internet than existed in the history of the world before 1950.  For example, remember how quickly the H1N1 virus got around the world, how quickly vaccines were developed and safety measures were put in, saving millions.

    Karen - I’m kind of fascinated about crowdsourcing.  There’s nothing preventing a company from sourcing its investment from anybody.  Look at Etsy, people who are starting small businesses.  We’re going back to the age of cottage crafts but now you have a global customer base.

    Ira - That’s wonderful, in fact when you were saying that I was thinking it’s also a way back to the earth.  One can now live in a rural setting and have a cottage industry, provided one has connectivity.  

    Challenges:

    Gerald - One of the issues I’m concerned about right now is, the FDA just approved a home HIV testing kit.  Is this good or bad?  Now someone could test themselves and not disclose it to the health authorities.

    Eileen - One issue that concerns me is the acceleration.  Sometimes I think it’s too fast for a human organism to engage all of our different pieces that bring wisdom to something, and we don’t give ourselves that time because the technology can go faster.  So, we keep trying to speed up.  I think we often don’t respect ourselves enough and our responsibility to bring wisdom to the tools.  When do we give ourselves the time to consider how we’re using the acceleration?  When the paradigms change so quickly there are a lot of people who don’t feel they can jump into that new dialog and we need them.  That’s my biggest concern.

    Finding a balance:

    Gerald - I work in the energy industry.  There is a lot of technological innovation: Solar, wind, storage systems, and even lighting systems.  For example, probably in the next decade we’ll get digital lighting that could shave off 10-15% of the total electrical demand of the country just by putting in these bulbs.  Now if you’re a power company and your margin is 10% and you just lost 10% of your sales.  That means you’re in trouble.  No one is saying don’t do it.  We’re just trying to figure out how to do it. 

    Ira - I was drawn to the topic because of the juxtaposition of technology and optimism.  Lots of people are pessimistic, even my daughter.  Instead of focusing on the potential of creating a new order.  She is concerned about how technology is disassociating us from each other.  She’s not wrong.  But, it is the period we live in.  So, what do we do to contain the downsides of anything and maximize the upsides? 

    Karen - To me, there’s always an upside and a downside.  Every benefit has a cost. 

    Eileen - I think we need to trust our humanness.  We need to have a human optimism as well.  A human cynicism and a technological optimism that would be a scary combination I think.  Developing the two things together.  Making sure that we don’t over trust the machine and abdicate our piece.

    Ira - The scientific community sets up ethics panels.  They are very aware that any of these things can have serious ethical consequences.  Yet, despite our consciousness the technology rushes way ahead of the capacity to keep up with it…. How can I maintain my optimism?  I’m struggling as I’m thinking.  I guess it has to do with, that throughout history we always create new capacity to harm ourselves, whether we build cities and they harbor the black plague, or gun powder.  The list goes on, and on and on.  So, I guess that trusting the humanness to keep alert, keep raising our voices, keep putting counter-balancing processes and even lobbies to try to keep things balanced, knowing that we won’t always succeed.  We are going to make some technology mistakes.  We don’t have to be pessimistic.  We just have to choose to be realistic.

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