This Time, It’s Different!

The M4D “revolution” continues unabated, but new revolutions are already well underway. It’s been at least a year since Kindles and iPads have also gone 4D, and the latest news is India’s $35 Aakash. The Jester is now taking bets on when the first event, journal, or working group focuses on the topic of T4D – “tablets for development.”

Today, though, the Jester will take a break from decrying the hype that comes with each new wave of technology. He will not question the bizarre juxtaposition of an industry unable to produce hardware that lasts three years talking about sustainability. And, he will not cynically note how with each new ICT, technologists squeal, “This time, it’s different!” until it, too, ends up in a dump where the locals burn off plastic for metal, in the process getting a good carcinogenic whiff of the toxic fumes.

No, instead, the Jester will return to his roots as a computer scientist and daydream about future ICTs. He will extrapolate to infinity and beyond, where technologies might actually really be so different that they really actually would save the world. Why continue fooling around with Python and Javascript, when brainpower could be applied to real breakthroughs…?

  • Potential World-Saving Technology #1: The holodeck. Here is a technology that allows people to immerse themselves in any conceivable world, with animated characters that look, feel, and act just like real people. Forget TV, forget laptops… Just drop children into holodecks from birth until 18 years of age, and they would all pop out with world-class educations (as well as a host of imaginary friends)! This time, the technology is sure to make schools a thing of the past.
  • Potential World-Saving Technology #2: The kung-fu teaching machine from the Matrix. Why waste 18 years in the holodeck, when education could be beamed into a person’s brain in seconds? Illiterate parents could have their children do unpaid labor for the early years, and then, on the eve of their adulthood, instantly transform them into lawyers, doctors, *and* engineers.
  • Potential World-Saving Technology #3: Autonomous humanoid robots. The Jester claims “technology amplifies human intent and capacity” but with self-willed robots, he’d have to include “robotic intent and capacity.” With technology amplifying itself, pesky human beings would no longer be necessary for having impact. Hurray!

The Jester offers a few comments regarding these reveries. First, for the beginning Jester reader: Unfortunately, like a lot of pipe dreams, these technologies are a long long ways away. Too bad.

Second, for the advanced Jester-ologist who is not so easily fooled… That’s right, even these incredible future technologies won’t fix human problems. 

For example, unless society musters the will to fix its social challenges, it will only be the rich and powerful who will have access to holodeck hardware, good holodeck content, and time inside a holodeck. Meanwhile, without a good upbringing to begin with, rural holocenter users, particularly the male ones, will be inclined to spend hours in holo-orgies instead of productive educational lessons. (Some future development theorists will also suggest that this should be considered development because it is an exercising of the users’ agency and an expansion of capabilities.)

Similarly, direct-to-brain instructional machines will come with different levels of quality. Again, the rich and powerful will be able to afford high-caliber machines that maximize learning while minimizing negative side effects. On the other hand, a poor, marginalized user will only be able to afford the local knock-off brands. Also, she will not understand that while she might very well learn kung-fu, she also risks a 5% chance of coming out believing she is a duck.

Finally, with robots, it will still be people who decide what motivations are built into them. Robotic goals will only echo our own intent and capacity. Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics sound great, except that it’s not at all clear, in the absence of a wise, effective world government, how anyone could enforce the laws for all robots. Despots as well as clueless development “experts” will release their own robots into the world, eager to implement policies that are supposedly good for people via robotic fiat. (Meanwhile, clever roboticists will design robots that (1) form ad hoc wireless societies on their own, (2) are hackable so that smallholder farmers can reconfigure them for themselves, and (3) are secure from Three-Laws tampering, except of course, if their password is stolen.)

It appears that even in the future, technology only amplifies human intent and capacity. As for the present craze with mobiles and tablets, the Jester sees a silver lining: it is reassuring to know that no app will turn him into a duck.

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One Response to “This Time, It’s Different!”

  1. Timo Says:

    I currently work as a Protection delegate in Liberia and could totally make a business case for being equipped with an iPad. You see, we have to show photos of children to parents and vice-versa and they are supposed to pick out their own family members. That would be so much better (cooler) with an iPad! See: rock-solid business case.

    Of course, considering that we don’t have enough cars, drivers or that we recently didn’t have a single working printer for more than a week, I’m afraid that the holodeck might be available sooner than my employer giving us tablets …

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