Are you ready for more technology in your daily life? Neither do I. But big tech has other plans. • Kansas reflector

Assuming our world refrains from descending into one fascist hellscapelet’s all imagine our lives in 10 years.

Will our lives include an ever-increasing role for social media and other invasive technologies brought to you by giant corporations? Or will they be simpler lives, based on face-to-face interactions and genuine experiences in the real world?

The funny thing about asking that question is that so few people desire a life with more technology. I asked the question on social media, and people overwhelmingly chose the second option. No one likes the onslaught of artificial intelligent programs that continuously manufacture false information. No one likes the psychological strain created by ever-mutating social media platforms. And while we live in the hustle and bustle of online retailers like Amazon, many of us would love to favor local merchants—if they existed.

So why have the corporate elite decided that question for us? Why do their business plans and the forecasts of everyone involved in the world economy presuppose one increasingly important role for technology? Profit is assumed to provide the answer, but that only makes sense if customers keep buying.

I don’t think it’s always been this way.

I well remember the excitement in the mid-1990s, when everyone who followed technology understood that The Internet would revolutionize it our world. These network connections allowed unprecedented access to news and information. Films, music and literature that were once locked away in dusty archives could now be seen and heard and read by anyone with a computer and modem.

At a certain point, however, technological progress became less about making our daily lives more convenient or about bringing it along the world of ideas to us. Instead, it focused on selling us experiences we don’t want and goods we don’t need.

When technology companies became the dominant drivers of our country’s economy — of the world’s economy — they became guilty of the same kind of short-term financial messes which defines our late stage capitalist society. They need to generate profit, profit, profit, regardless of the effect on the overall well-being of society. In less than a generation, tech companies have transformed from benign online bookstores to noisy tobacco manufacturers. With everyone conscience-sapping dishonesty inherent in that comparison.

Last month I wrote about how the large language model ChatGPT generated false information about my last name. Since then, I’ve heard directly from readers who experienced similar AI hallucinations. Social media and news reports suggest that students have started using this technology in their schoolwork.

In other words, we’ve gone from technology manufacturing being smarter and better informed to dumber and worse informed.

Such progress!

Meanwhile, the Lawrence school board has renewed his contract with Gaggle, an AI program that scans students’ devices for allegedly disturbing information. Laurence High School journalists reported how the supposedly sophisticated software flagged a host of innocuous behavior to school administrators. School officials praised the students’ efforts and said they would take their concerns into consideration for the future.

We can now see that Lawrence school officials have been seduced by impossible promises of gimmicky technology. You can’t hand over the work of building relationships with students and their families to a program and walk away with a clear conscience. You just can’t.

Behind all of this is the concern expressed by tech writer Cory Doctorow. he coined the term ens***tifcation to describe the process by which a useful website or technology gains a huge audience thanks to its simplicity and quality, and is then methodically degraded by its owners to sell advertising and exploit users.

This process, he wrote, could be seen on popular platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and many others. I would suggest that ens***tifcation applies much more broadly in the technical field. Wonderful and useful devices are introduced and gradually become worse.

How many people really can tell the difference between their high definition TV set and a 4K resolution TV? How many can tell the difference between an iPhone 12 and an iPhone 14? How many people can tell the difference between a Kindle seventh generation and a Kindle ninth generation? If you play games, how does an exclusive PlayStation 4 differ from a PlayStation 5? Please do not answer all at once.

Enthusiasts will list a number of differences between all of these products. But when it comes to the vast majority of people, tech companies have decided to sell the same product to their customers over and over again. Meanwhile, social media companies rely on online content that either numbs your mind or radicalizes the users into right-wing fascism or left-wing insanity.

I understand. I’m a rapidly aging whiner. In 10 years I may look as ridiculous as the man who should have said “everything that can be invented has been invented” in 1899. For the good of society I hope so.

Then perhaps we should listen to the predictions of a futurist. That is, let’s listen to someone who doesn’t have to meet quarterly sales deadlines and instead give thanks for the future in a big way. No one could be better suited for the job Ray Kurzweilan artificial intelligence expert and futurist.

He has just published a new book, The singularity is closer”, makes an astonishing number of claims about the future.

“The singularity, which is a metaphor borrowed from physics, will occur when we merge our brain with the cloud,” Kurzweil told the Guardian. “We will be a combination of our natural intelligence and our cybernetic intelligence and it will all be rolled into one. Making that possible will be brain-computer interfaces that will ultimately be nanobots – robots the size of molecules – which will enter our brains noninvasively through the capillaries. We will expand intelligence a millionfold by 2045 and it will deepen our awareness and our consciousness.”

He admitted, after the interviewer pushed back, that this all sounds absolutely terrible: “People say, ‘I don’t want that.’ They thought they didn’t want phones either!”

Lord have mercy on us all.

Clay Wirestone is the Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people affected by public policy or excluded from the public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own comment, here.

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