Thursday 15 March 2012

Technological Rationality: the Logos of Slavery or the Enabler of Human(e) Progress?

Technological development has faced criticism. The efficiency brought by industrialization and computer technology is expected to eventually lead to unpleasant outcome. The critics have developed by means of science-fiction stories about a future filled with technology. It is assumed that people stagnate and indulge only their animal desires. In the second scenario, the people become insensitive robots relying only on pure reason.

Herbert Marcuse was of the opinion that the logos of technology equals to the logos of slavery. People have become tools, even if it was thought that the technology releases persons. In his book One-dimensional Man published in 1964, Marcuse says that in the historical continuum man has been and will be the master of the other man. This is a social reality which societal changes do not affect. The basis for domination, however, has changed over the ages. Personal dependence has been replaced by an objective order of dependency, such as the dependency of a slave to the master has changed to the dependence of the economic laws and of the market. In accordance with Marcuse this higher form of rationality deprives natural and spiritual resources more efficiently and shares profits in a new way. A man can be seen as a slave in the production machinery and there is a battle of the existence in the production machinery. The battle affects with the destructive power the production machinery and its parts, such as builders and users.

Marcuse’s ideas certainly give some food for thought. And while I don’t completely agree with them. The development and use of intelligent machines face tremendous challenges in current legal systems. Technological development is stifled by liability risks. Due to both the technological limitations for perfectly functioning machines and the unpredictable cognitive element, intelligent machines are not perfect and it is almost guaranteed that there will be failures causing harm. However, this is not an excuse not to aim for failure-free operation. Instead, the inevitable failures should be managed so that present economical or legal issues do not hinder the potential human development and prosperity enabled through the adoption of new technologies. To read more about my and my co-author’s thoughts on this:

Steve Fuller, New frontiers in science and technology (Polity, Cambridge 2007) 232 p

Herbert Marcuse, Yksiulotteinen ihminen: teollisen yhteiskunnan tarkastelua (W+G, Helsinki 1969) 262 p

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