Can Technology Improve Us?Guest blogger Maximilian Majewski writes:

One morning you will wake, with the sun’s warm glance in your face as has often been the case, yet you’ll find that something is amiss. You will be enclosed by technology. It will envelop our frail bodies wherever we might go. We are racing towards that future, without stopping. It will be a world of computerized panes of glass, where every element of architecture has a circuit embedded. One question remains yet unanswered, though: Do we really want that?

Ours has always been a saga of aspirations writ large; technology can undoubtedly be a tool of accomplishment. Brave astronauts have extended humanity’s realm to the moon, and we incessantly seek answers to the mysteries of the cosmos. For the longest time, scientists, philosophers, and artists have intended to answer our profoundest questions. Kings and leaders of countries have led wars for the silliest reasons. Despite these shortcomings, I dare say that we have a bright future ahead of us.

Prof. Carl Sagan said: “We were bounded only by the Earth and the ocean and sky… our little terraqueous globe is the mad house… we who cannot even put our own planetary home into order… are we to venture out into space?”

Since his death in 1996, technology has tremendously advanced. Our understanding of the universe and our home planet is still in its infancy, though. Only recently, James Cameron is the second human to venture into the abyss that is the Mariana Trench, 11 kilometers down. This proves that we know so little, yet unabatedly dream on. Curiosity and persistence have always been motivators of great minds.

It is not so much a question of how far technology will take us. We should ask ourselves how far we are willing to let technology develop. Notwithstanding the popular dystopian stories, I am a supporter of computers. Recently I begin to cringe at future product announcements profuse in promises. Every new Apple product, for instance, is magical and revolutionary — or so tells us its vigorous marketing department. In the past, great works of art, deep ruminations on life, or amusingly cynical plays did not require ‘magical’ devices. Their creators already had at their disposal the greatest machine of all: the human brain. This can be said about most any consumer electronics device. To what extend do these ‘magical’ tools really help us transcend our human limitations?

I use computers so much as to wonder if it is not the computer using me instead. Before dragging my body out of bed, my first reflex is to check emails and statuses on my tablet. It is such an urge for immediacy that victimizes us all. Sure, it is fun and exciting to be in the know. I may not be first in pondering these issues, but my fiancĂ©e’s eyes rolling tells me that some exploration of this subject is still of interest. My dependence bothers me. Yet I still believe in great innovation, and the improvements that they will bring.

We aspire to travel the stars, explore the deep sea, and provide clean energy for all. Sometimes it seems as though we may have forgotten the most basic human needs. Even with all our technology, there is still famine and poverty in the world. Do not misconstrue my perspective. I do not condemn the path we chose. I believe a reconsideration of priorities may be in place, though. Those who create technology must also develop a moral creativity. That is to say, we have the power to improve living conditions for everyone. Furthermore, technology may improve the human condition by making quotidian tasks simpler. Such technologies like the iPad, however, are not magical. Such gadgets are merely lucrative.

I am an avid photographer. The use of technology makes all this easier and more productive. I would not deny this. Certainly, software has given me freedom to manifest my photographic vision. The finished product is no longer just a result of an artistic eye, but also an aptitude for computers. Is this a bad thing? No, not directly. It does raise a fascinating question. Great masters like Ansel Adams had no access to all these technologies, yet they produced masterpieces. Those photographs were a result of years of passionate dedication to mastering the tools — really, there was only the camera — and then using them to perpetuate their vision on paper. Today, photography is no longer an uncensored artistic statement; instead, it is one person’s vision processed through software filters. By that reckoning, modern photography is not made, but factory-made.

Apple is a great example to illustrate my point, for various reasons; it’s a company that believes its products are enabling its users to change the world. That is what, in the late 1990s, Steve Jobs wanted conveyed in the ‘Think Different’ campaign. All his life, the mercurial CEO believed in technology’s power to improve the human condition on an educational, intellectual, and artistic level.

Like in my photography metaphor, computers and tablets may indeed simplify previously complex tasks. In a school environment, it probably increases students’ interest. In my opinion, this is a kind of bribing children into doing their homework. All the great minds that I have learned about, as will generations to come, used only their minds to make awe-inspiring discoveries. Some of these so-called geniuses have innovated in a wide range of fields. They pushed the human race forward, as Steve Jobs would think. This exact phrase was indeed the climax of the Think Different ad, as narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. Technology or not, children are still lazy, if not arguably more even.

Beyond the discussion over benefits and disadvantages of further integrating technology into the fabric of human life, there is another enticing and equally pressing matter. What happens when our inept social structure trickles over to these soon-to-be artificial intelligences? This is a moral dilemma, but more frighteningly, it also represents the truth of the human condition today. Just as Carl Sagan questioned our readiness to venture into space, we should pause and realize the implications of infusing computers with even more intelligence.

Just as much as we do not like others to meddle with us, one day, machines will also object to us being meddlesome. With all of the great technological improvements in years to come, we will also face the same problems as we have done for all our existence.