Sunday, January 27, 2019

Our humanity vs. technology and corporatism

My wife and I enjoyed a performance of Sleeping Beauty by the Russian National Ballet Theater last Wednesday night at a theater on campus at UIUC. Every time I enjoy art, company of family and friends, reading a good book, cooking and enjoying a meal, etc. I appreciate being a human (i.e., a somewhat evolved great ape) and my physical and social life.

I view technology as a fairly neutral force in our lives. I judge technology on how it improves peoples' lives, health, the health of our planet, and generally how well it supports civil society. As technologists, we get value from being paid for our work and thus helping to support ourselves and our families and to spend money in our local economies (supporting local businesses and directly or indirectly hiring people working in our communities.) We also benefit from any pleasure we get learning new things while working. There are obvious bad aspects of technology and these bad aspects are mostly aligned with corporatism.

Whether or not you believe in big government or small government, I argue that an important function of government is to provide some checks and balances to corporations. Corporations by design are systems for making money for owners/shareholders. While this can positively affect society there are too many cases where things go wrong: lobbying and perverting democratic systems of government, extracting too much value out of local communities, and centralizing economic power and control - killing off smaller and potentially better rivals.

As technologists I think we can find a good balance between earning a good living to support ourselves, family, and community and also as much as possible choosing to work for organizations and projects that have a net benefit to overall society. I look at this in a way that is analogous to a "carbon tax" for technologies we create and use. Let's call it a "technology value tax" where we try to at least make our work "carbon neutral."