Either way, the tech will save us
L.M. Sacases, writing in The Point, in a wide-ranging essay on using technology to “outsource virtue”:
We might think of the preoccupation with technological fixes to what may turn out to be irreducibly social and political problems. In a prescient essay from 2020 about the pandemic response, the science writer Ed Yong observed that “instead of solving social problems, the U.S. uses techno-fixes to bypass them, plastering the wounds instead of removing the source of injury—and that’s if people even accept the solution on offer.” There’s no need for good judgment, responsible governance, self-sacrifice or mutual care if there’s an easy technological fix to ostensibly solve the problem. No need, in other words, to be good, so long as the right technological solution can be found.
I was immediately reminded of my favorite passage from Ray Nayler’s novel, The Mountain in the Sea, that essentially flips Sacases’s argument:
We are so ashamed of what we have done as a species that we have made up a monster to destroy ourselves with. We aren’t afraid it will happen: We hope it will. We long for it. Someone needs to make us pay the price for what we have done. Someone needs to take this planet away from us before we destroy it once and for all. And if the robots don’t rise up, if our creations don’t come to life and take the power we have used so badly for so long away from us, who will? What we fear isn’t that AI will destroy us-we fear it won’t. We fear we will continue to degrade life on this planet until we destroy ourselves. And we will have no one to blame for what we have done but our selves. So we invent this nonsense about conscious AI.”
In both case, our belief in tech — for better and for worse — is merely a way to abdicate responsibility, to pin the blame on someone — or something else — if it all goes wrong.