The power to follow your every move

Dette er diskussionsafsnittet skrevet til engelsk opgave omhandlende et nyt GPS-system.

The assignment is:

“Discuss what you see as the most important aspects of the GPS technology. Give your arguments. (min. 300 words)

Immediately when I was reading the article, I noted a couple of problems, which I will elaborate:

  1. Technology optimism versus technology pessimism and the impossibility of deciding which is correct.
  2. Efficiency equals robotising humans. Humans are ‘just’ not effective. Happiness and effectiveness does not always correlate.
  3. The surveillance problem. Is there a choice to be invisible? Future possibilities?
  4. Personal life. We all love it, but what is it and why do we love it?
  1. Technology optimism versus technology pessimism and the impossibility of deciding which is correct.

Karl Aage Kirkegaard defines technology optimism as:

[The notion that] technology is beneficial to humans. […] Technology is a servant, which obey human orders, and which does the boring work.

And technology pessimism as:

The technology pessimists point to a number of negative effects of technological evolution.1

Whether or not technology has been primary helpful or unhelpful is impossible to decide with certainty, because it would require us to:

  1. Create a database of all current and previous uses of technology, and
  2. Decide whether or not it was helpful.

The first criteria is technically impossible, to fulfil, however, one could make reasonable estimates, if we could identify a good criteria for the second point.

The problem is, that according to the relativist view, which I share, helpful is a rather subjective criteria, since it begs the question, helpful to what purpose? Given that all purposes are subjective, it is impossible to decide, which one is correct. One should not, however, let this fact scare one. Discussion of morality is still necessary, even though we might not all agree with the conclusions it is important to know why we disagree.

One such criteria could be that of utilitarianism, which is:

“the greatest good for the greatest number of people”2

Where good can be defined as happiness or pleasure.

If we are to make a very broad estimate, then one could argue that if we look at a time scale, the level of happiness has increased almost linearly. At the same time, the general level of technology has also increased almost or linearly. It is arguable that there is a connection. One could also make an argument:

Technology generally lessens the physical work needing to be done by humans. Therefore, the more technology, the less physical work for humans (observable fact). Happiness comes when one is free to do what one wants and it not forced to do physical work. Therefore, an increase in technology leads to happiness.

This is a very general argument, which holds some force. One could object, that while this may be true, it may not always be true. For instance, it could be the case that there is a ‘halting point’, in which lack of physical work and freedom does not lead to more happiness. An analogy could be made with money. While money generally seem to increase happiness, there is a limit, when that limit is reached, more money can no longer provide more happiness.

Based on the above two arguments, technology can be said to increase happiness, which somewhat renders technology optimism as true. Note that technology pessimism and optimism is not either i.e. a dilemma, it can be a combination or none.

On the other side, technology has not only brought happiness. The most obvious is that technology boosts war, by helping humans kill each other. Dead humans are certainly not happy. If technology also leads to less happiness, then we’re in the same situation as we began in. We are forced to quantify the happiness and not-happiness, which is impossible on objective grounds. I call this the quantification problem.

  1. Efficiency equals robotising humans. Humans are ‘just’ not effective. Happiness and effectiveness does not always correlate.

Efficiency is a word used with technology, dictionary.com defines it thus:

  1. the state or quality of being efficient; competency in performance.
  2. accomplishment of or ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort: The assembly line increased industry’s efficiency.
  3. the ratio of the work done or energy developed by a machine, engine, etc., to the energy supplied to it, usually expressed as a percentage.

The first may be ignored, since it is irrelevant. The second and third basically say the same thing. The output versus the input.

While evolution has favoured the most efficient species, humans are not capable of evolving as fast as we can evolve technology. The problem arises when competition (similar to natural selection) is applied to humans3 working together with non-humans. The combined technology with the human, also needs to be improved i.e. made more efficient due to competition. The assembly line needs to be moving faster, which means that the human just also speed it to keep up with the machines. This point was already made in Charles Chaplin’s Modern Times from 1936, in which he acted as an assembly line worker, who became robotised and become non-human.

And so, we’re back at the same problem as earlier. Competition surely increases happiness by providing better and cheaper products, but also causes unhappiness to the workers who have to make the product – in other words, we’re back as the quantification problem.

  1. The surveillance problem. Is there a choice to be invisible? Future possibilities?

I don’t think anyone wants to be completely robbed of their personal life. What that means and why, will be discussed in the next ‘chapter’. Now I shall turn to the problem of surveillance. Suppose that the Galileo system was implanted right now, and one wants to be invisible, is that possible? The answer is yes, because the system can only ‘see’ you, if you have a tracking device. If it is not mandatory, but optional to have such a device, it cannot be said to be a forced surveillance system.

That is the superficially easy answer. But there is, of course, more to discuss. For example the dichotomy between mandatory and optional devices. Is a loo an optional device? Certainly depends on optionally for what purpose, which renders it somewhat subjective. But suppose, that the criteria is ‘to be able to live a normal life’. Then is a loo an optional device? Depends where you live, if you live in a city, it may not be a good city to ‘shit’ (lacking a better word) on the streets. If one wanted to make this complicated, we could loop up the human rights and use them as a guidance to a ‘normal life’. However, since this is just a small essay, I shall not make things that complicated, for now at least. More difficult cases are that of the internet or mobile phones.

In the internet case, I have some personal experience to bring to the table, so to speak. I don’t have an internet connection at home, which makes it a lot harder for me to write assignments like this, since it both has to be delivered on the internet (Fronter) and because a such assignment requires me to do some research, of which to easiest method is to use the internet. Is the internet mandatory? Depends if getting an education is mandatory. I shall leave it here, and we should just note, that it is hard or perhaps impossible to say whether or not something is mandatory.

Suppose that all new mobile phones and or computers had an in-built GPS system. Is there still choice left? What about if all new cars had them? That’s quite possible to the very future.

  1. Personal life. We all love it, but what is it and why do we love it?

I shall define personal life, as that which you do alone, or must do alone. Going to the toilet should probably be considered personal life.

Answering the question to why we need personal life seems to be psychological. One could wonder if we have a need to hide some things from other people. If we are to look at biology and therefore evolution. There does not seem to be any survival value in hiding certain things from other humans. If we follow the nature culture dichotomy, then if it is not nature, then it is culture. One could therefore speculate, that we have created a cultural need to have privacy, i.e. hiding things.

The obvious candidate for weird behaviour, is, as always, religion. In the main monotheistic religions, we find that the LORD is not very pleased with sex. If we suppose that an empire had based their laws on such a religion, they would have a law against sex or perhaps just some forms of sex. Alternative, the LORD could also believe, that sex was somehow sacred4 and must be kept private. Therefore, inhabitants of that hypothetical country would need to hide their sex and probably other actions from everyone else. The last piece of the puzzle is to assume that this notion has been kept alive since then. (1482 words)

1Karl Aage Kirkegaard. Teknologifilosofi, 2005. Page 37-38.

2Broadly defined, there are many versions of it.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarism

3Or humen, which seems to be the logical choice because man gets ‘bent’ to men, why not humen?

4This notion still haunts modern times.