By Bo Wen Zhu, HKIS, 13 years old
In the past few decades, technological growth has been astronomical. The 21st century has brought a host of new gadgets onto the playing table, all fought over by different companies for profit. Seemingly every month, an innovative product is developed with limitless potential, each more powerful than the previous one. Computers hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than those that piloted the Apollo spaceships are ubiquitous in offices and schools. Even more shocking is the fact that we possess calculators whose computing power is thousands of times higher than the ones that took up entire rooms just 3 decades ago. Though the benefits of the rapidly developing technology might seem greatly beneficial to society, ubiquitous and powerful technology is greatly detrimental to society’s growth, happiness, and security. For one, the more powerful a piece of technology is, the more damage will occur if used inappropriately. Secondly, with all of our private information stored in the form of binary in huge databases around the globe, it gives hackers an advantage: the more locations and forms our private information is stored in, the more ways there are to breach their security systems and obtain them. Finally, the development of powerful technology and making it ubiquitous will also inevitably lead to their usage in warfare.
First of all, individuals with negative intentions have always found ways to utilize any type of technology to use against a society’s members. A prominent example is the usage of fax machines in the 1970s to send ink-consuming spam. A sender looped a piece of black construction paper in a fax machine, sending endless copies to an unfortunate victim’s machine. It will consume all of the victim’s ink in a matter of minutes, causing a lot of inconvenience. Another more commonplace example that everyone with an email account has experienced will be spam messages clogging up inboxes. Potentially, these messages contain viruses and malware that will increase inconvenience to society. Therefore, if we have a plethora of gadgets, then we will have a plethora of inconveniences to deal with.
Moreover, it is important to note that although the inconveniences caused by spam is a problem worth targeting, a greater, darker problem emerges from it. As technology use increases, we are storing more and more of our private information on them, and in the “information cloud”. Take, for example, our very own HKID. The small chip inside them provides a link into one of Hong Kong’s many databases, containing our address, phone number, email address, and basically every bit of information that we will feel uncomfortable giving out. These databases are equipped with high-security features to prevent hacking, but hackers are always trying to be one step ahead. The security features of a U.S database failed a matter of days ago, leaking the private information of 18 million Americans into the hacker’s hands. If technology usage increases, so will the storage of information on them, and the more vulnerable that information will be. Think about it this way: If your houses’ door has a lock, a fingerprint scanner, and a key car reader, each able to open the door on its own, doesn’t a thief have more methods of opening the door? If your same door only had a fingerprint scanner, then the thief will have only one method of gaining access to your house. The same can be said about data security: the multiple sources represent the multiple methods of gaining access to the information. We are unconsciously helping hackers by increasing our usage of technology. If hackers do succeed, isn’t both society’s privacy and security under jeopardy?
Finally, it is important to note that a surfeit of new and powerful technology will inevitably lead to their modification for usage in warfare. We humans, with all our fancy gadgets, think we are superior to all the other animals and different from them. However, we too are a work of nature, and as a result conflict is woven deep into our natural instinct. We will inevitably approach a piece of powerful technology, such as computers, and try to link it with methods to produce great weaponry. In this case, the powerful computers’ components evolved into drones, guiding appendages for surface-to-air missiles, GPS trackers for intercontinental ballistic missiles, self-guiding depth charges, and an overwhelming amount of weaponry capable of being compared to the U.S arsenal. This dark point is outlined perfectly in a famous quote: “You can’t say that society does not progress, for in every war they kill you in a new way.” Does this sound good to society as a whole? Absolutely not.
Proponents of the opposite side of the argument has pointed out that the advance in technology has led to a great increase in society’s happiness due to increased convenience. Although this argument seems solid and valid, it is a common misconception that the proponents have failed to notice is just an illusion. Michael Sandel’s award-winning book “Justice” provided an intensive study and insightful analysis of this exact claim. By gathering data, it has been revealed that the reason why the technology seems to have greatly increased happiness is because of everybody’s utilitarian attitude when it comes to assessing a society’s many aspects. In simpler words, a utilitarian seeks to find the overall amount of happiness and satisfaction within a community, glossing over the individual aspects.
Putting this into an example might aid comprehension of this complicated claim. After the invention of the television, economical benefits skyrocketed and families rejoiced at a new method of entertainment, satisfying even the most critical utilitarian analyst. How, you might ask? Well, a utilitarian looks at a society with this common question: How well can this society be utilized to work? In other words, is the current situation of the society enabling it to provide benefits to make further improvements. However, to carry out the changes, the society’s overall satisfaction and happiness of its workers are needed, which ensure an appropriate working attitude.
However, the problem is that everyone is looking at a society through utilitarian lenses when assessing the impact of technology on it. After all, doesn’t everyone want to improve the society they themselves live in? Due to this, individual happiness and satisfaction is overlooked. Did utilitarians consider the many obese individuals who gained ten too many pounds being a couch potato? No. Did utilitarian consider the academic time wasted by a child because his favorite show was in a rerun? No. Did the utilitarian consider what all this will lead to? No! In fact, this will lead to their worst nightmare: a decrease in society’s usefulness. Why then, did they fail to notice such a glaring problem? That is because of, alas, their habit of analyzing communities as a whole and disregarding individual circumstances. However, those circumstances still have weight, and will add up eventually. Thus, although the technology seems to have incurred a great sense of convenience and happiness in a society, the individual cases of inconveniences will balance out, if not overcome, the conveniences that lead to a world utilitarians dream about.
In conclusion, a flourishing society need not a plethora of high-tech computers, sophisticated communication systems, and highly intricate machinery. If any of them fall into control of the wrong hands, then they will cause as much, if not more, inconvenience as they provide convenience. Furthermore, it is important to consider data security as an important aspect, as hackers will have multiple sources to target because of an increased usage in data-storing technology. Finally, the most detrimental to society both individually and as a whole, is the evolution of technology onto the battlefield. Society can benefit greatly from an amazing piece of technology, but at what expense? What if the very technology the smartphones we use today will be used to take the lives of unfortunate individuals on a battlefield in the form of tracer bullets? Technology is required for progression of society, but at what cost? What if the evolution of technology will make them so powerful that someday it will take over your job?