Sunday, November 23, 2008

Advanced technology and social divisiveness

What would the world look like with even more dramatic technological change? What if accelerating change in technology not only continues but also heightens in depth and magnitude? One dramatic change, for example, would be having a 100x or 1,000x improvement in human capability (thought, memory, learning, lifespan, healthspan, etc.). The definition of what it is to be human may evolve as the transhuman and posthuman concepts explore. There have not yet been “different kinds of humans” or “different kinds of intelligences” co-existing in civilization.

These dramatic changes are distinct from the more general quality of life and more minor capacity improvements delivered by technology so far (the Internet, cell phone, medical transplant technologies, electricity, steam engine, immunization, etc.).

One possible future could be the organization of society into voluntary social groupings based on outlook and adoption or non-adoption of technology; some obvious dividing line technologies could be human genetic engineering and brain-computer interfaces.

A simple societal lens that can be applied at present is technology adopters and non-adopters.

Luddites are different from Those Who Don’t Use Cell Phones
Some portion of non-adopters are doing so deliberately and out of principle: Luddites, Amish and other religions, etc. The other portion of non-adopters has just not had the access (practical, technical, financial or otherwise), willingness or perception of value (e.g.; a killer app) required to adopt. So far in democracies, both types of non-adopters have been accommodated into society, and are generally able to continue their behaviors, for example, the practice of some religions of complete medical non-intervention.

Peaceful coexistence of adopters and non-adopters
Participatory political regimes will tend to avoid paternalism in technology adoption while economic and social incentives and universal access will tend to trigger adoption (example: the cell phone). Simultaneously, mature societies tend to accept and accommodate non-adopters. Two main dynamics that could challenge the peaceful coexistence of adopters and non-adopters would be first, the perceived threat of new technology particularly by those that can control its adoption and second, times of economic scarcity and pronounced competition for resources.

blog comments powered by Disqus