In Favor of Techno-Realism
I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can subscribe to never miss an article.
Two articles in Foreign Affairs that literally follow one another present two sharply opposing views with regard to Technology[i]. They constitute nothing less than one of the most powerful and important Dialectics on a topic that impacts every aspect of our lives for the foreseeable future and beyond.
In the first article, Eric Schmidt makes the case for Technology. Not surprisingly, AI plays a key role for as he sees it, it’s the foundation upon which advances in Scientific discovery rest. In effect, AI supercharges the ability of Scientists to discover ever more powerful Technologies.
All of this rests on the familiar dictum that Knowledge is Power. In turn, Knowledge rests on the power of Innovation. Thus, instead of a country’s natural resources or wealth, the determining factor making for success is continuing advance of Innovation. Accordingly, the mantra is “Innovate or Die”. In terms of Geopolitics, the “ability to innovate faster and better will determine the great power competition between the U.S. and China”.
In the second article, Lant Pritchett argues that because of our falling birthrates, we need to reform our Immigration policies so that the world’s poor can come to the U.S. and take on the millions of jobs that go begging such as Nurses and Nurses Aids and the like. Thus, instead of displacing U.S. workers, immigrants can not only help themselves, but us.
Pritchett’s case rests on the proposition that Machines are not better at personal care, and most important of all, “will not necessarily be better than people in driving trucks”.
As he puts it so incisively, “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but false necessity is the mother of dumb inventions…”. Thus, the scarcity of workers to do jobs “propels companies to invest wastefully in technology that need not exist. Automation, in other words, is not inevitable but driven by the artificial scarcity of labor”. As a result, companies falsely perceive “a financial incentive to choose machines over people,” depriving them of making wiser choices. In sum, “It’s time to make the bet on a future built by and for people”.
In the end, the debate is between whether one is a Techno-Optimist or a Techno-Pessimist. While I lean towards Techno-Pessimism, I realize that the best position is that of Techno-Realism. By definition, modern Civilization is the product of Technology, without which it’s not possible.
At the heart of Techno-Realism is the mandate to use Technology wisely. It means giving up the damaging belief that it can do better everything that humans can. It requires aiding Humans, not replacing them.
Deciding what “aids us” is of course fodder for the on-going debate.
An article on Fake Videos raises the stakes[ii]. The Technology for making Fake Videos has now become so readily available such that it’s easier than ever to make them. No wonder why it’s been suggested that it ought to be a crime with a mandatory ten-year sentence. We can quibble about the length of sentencing, but I do not with whether it’s a crime or not.
[i] Eric Schmidt, “Innovation Power: Why Technology Will Define the Future of Geopolitics,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2023, PP 38–52; Lant Protchett, “People Over Robots: The Global Economy Needs Immigration Before Automation,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2023, PP 53–64.
[ii] Stuart A. Thompson, “Fake Videos Just Got Easier For Everyone,” The New York Times, Monday, March 13, 2023, P B1.
Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.