We humans are a curious species, really. As far as we know we’re the only species capable of thinking about ourselves as existing through time, of planning the future, of thinking about what is to come. Yet, despite that, not only through history, but even today we are often in peculiar position of rushing head-first into something, then realizing that was not such a good idea, then trying to pass legislation to undo the effects that have occurred because of that recklessness and forbid others from repeating our mistakes.
But the funny thing is, that is not even the worst scenario that could happen because of the lack of foresight. When some things are concerned – looking at you, reckless usage of energy sources that lead to the global warming – a huge number of us doesn’t even recognize there’s a problem at all – or if they recognize it, they are quick to deny it.
This is just one example of how hard is it to even try to undo something gone very, very wrong. You first have to fight the sceptical politicians – looking at you, US – they are not and maybe even cannot be convinced by science because they follow only the money. After that, there is a gruesome task of convincing deniers among the general public – because the general public is on average even less educated than the politicians or if they are not – they have less time to get educated about these things as they have to worry about how to feed their family and don’t exactly have time to take a really deep look for themselves. How much would that be effective – that remains to be seen. So, to say that it’s in a lot of cases – an uphill battle is an understatement.
One might only wonder what the world would be like if we all as a species were not quite so impulsive. If you think about it, we’re kind of like children. Child sees something, child wants it – or to translate that into societies run by a combination of democracy and capitalism – an invention is made or a natural resource is discovered and the companies are immediately very quick to jump on it in the hopes of securing it for themselves in order to gain an advantage over the competition – and the competition does the same. What are the results? Often the result is technology that damages the users or the environment. Of course, for a society to rely on a sense of corporate responsibility is not wise.
So, what is the answer? More regulations and so-called Big government? A procedure like approval of new medicine – years of tests upon this new technology until it is as close to certain that it will not result in a huge array of negative effects? Maybe. Maybe, on the other hand, we as consumers should try harder and use only products that contain parts which have no adverse effects upon the environment or other living things? That would be very hard to do, practically close to impossible. IT would be effective, but on a large scale doesn’t seem realistic.
I would nevertheless suggest that we all try and do that. We vote with our wallets. We reward companies that seem to stand for something. We try to reward companies that seem responsible. By rewarding them we’ll be punishing those that do not do this. Of course, each of our little actions cannot accomplish anything by itself, but if we more of us behave like this I am certain that our actions multiplied thousands and thousands of times can make a difference.
Ideally, if we want to prevent problems that can appear as a result of too-eager corporations only looking for profit, we would also need help from the governments. We would need more controls. We would need governments that have respect for science and scientists. That kind of government should do their part to calm down the introductions of dangerous technologies and practices by seeking opinions from independent counsels, from independent sources and would reward those sources accordingly.
You might think that all this sounds big-brotherly, but that is not the intent. Consider Facebook and other social networks and technology giants. It is widely known they built in mechanisms that have us hooked in order to gather more data from us – that might not be so evil – but the fact that Facebook – with its vast resources can be hacked – and is hacked – and our data stolen shows that ultimately, they are evil because profit is their only goal. With the number of resources, they have – not a single user’s data should have been leaked. But it happened. And the algorithms were manipulated, etc. Politicians are just now waking up to all of this. If they were more technologically advanced from the beginning of Web 2.0, we might not have gotten this far and be in this mess where huge technological giants answer to no one.
So, what in my opinion should have been the philosophy before Facebook and Google turned in such huge and almost uncontrollable monsters? Well, the governments should have had advisors which could have told them that technologies to track people and keep their data forever exist. These advisers should have told the governments that technologies exist to track even people who have not explicitly registered with these services. Then maybe the governments would have acted pre-emptively and have laws (perhaps like GDPR in the EU) in place which would require these corporations that they demand the users’ consent before selling their data. Boom – one huge problem of the modern world is prevented or at least has its scope reduced even before it starts.
Similar approach could possibly be taken with anything, really when it comes to new technologies. There could be people whose job is to warn the lawmakers and the public of the possibility to abuse an upcoming technological advancement. Consider the AI. Even now it should be possible to pre-emptively pass laws which limit the abuse of AI or maybe demand that certain considerations are considered when building the AI.
Certainly, after the mess with plastics and global warming, it seems we can do better. For the sake of future generations let’s use our intellects to also prevent disasters not only recover from them.