Technotopia Doesn't Exist


From the Annals of Extreme Wrongness, here's Alan Greenspan in 2005: "But recent regulatory reform, coupled with innovative technologies, has stimulated the development of financial products, such as asset-backed securities, collateral loan obligations, and credit default swaps, that facilitate the dispersion of risk."

Greenspan wasn't wrong about the power of technology or deregulation, just that the product of that combination had lowered risk instead of pumping it to what we now know to be disastrous levels. Technological muscle was assumed to be an unmitigated good thing, in and of itself. Thus do reputations tarnish.

This kind of technotopianism is seductive, dangerous, and widespread. It's currently rampant in my own tablet-happy industry, where "publishers are relying on an antiquated business model to target digital consumers."

Machines can do wonderful things, but, y'know, GIGO. As Mitch Ratcliffe has said, "A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila."

Much of this was clear decades ago to writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, who portrayed worlds where technological advances coexisted with immutable human nature. Maybe politicians and business leaders will catch up to the sci-fi scribes someday; one of our jobs here is to keep banging on the latter group to make sure the power of technology is used wisely and without fairy-tale expectations.