Accessibility Tools

  • Content scaling 100%
  • Font size 100%
  • Line height 100%
  • Letter spacing 100%

Technology

Techno by Marcus Smith

by
July 2024, no. 466

For those of us who would like to see a revival of the ‘techno-critical’ tradition in public debate (the tradition of Marshall McLuhan, Jacques Ellul, Neil Postman, and Langdon Winner, inter many alia), it is a cause of some irritation that the hegemonic view of technology remains the instrumental one. Here, technology is deemed to be neutral, in a way that precludes any serious analysis of its constitutive role in human affairs. Technologies, it is said, are merely tools to serve the needs of their users; they have no political content per se. I can use a hammer to drive in a nail or bludgeon my next-door neighbour to death. It is my actions that matter, not the hammer itself.

... (read more)

It was a busy day in February. I was in my office at Monash University, squeezing in some emails with one hand and a quick bite of lunch with the other. Yeah, a typical day for an academic. That’s when I came across an email sent to me by a PhD student from another Australian university who wanted to know about a research paper I had written. They sent me the title of the paper, the abstract, and the author list. 

... (read more)

Man-Made: How the bias of the past is being built into the future recounts findings from a six-year ‘mission’ to ‘identify the villains’ in the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Uncovering the history and future of AI through a feminist lens, Tracey Spicer puts the conservatism at the heart of these oft-touted ‘revolutionary technologies’ on full display. Spicer contextualises AI’s current omnipresence in a world ruled by money, the military, and men. Interlacing an impressive range of vignettes, Man-Made introduces the reader to everything from AI’s origins in women’s weaving, to racist soap dispensers, to Sexbots, to gaming, to driverless cars, to childcare robots, to the end of humanity.

... (read more)

Back in the day, I was wary about making a career in science. It wasn’t just the lack of women; it was also a sense of moving into alien territory. After all, I had absorbed feminist critiques suggesting that modern science had been shaped by (male) scientists’ urge to ‘penetrate’ nature by reducing it to its parts – an urge that had blinded them to the power of the whole. And I was all for the whole – for Gaia, the whole Earth, not for atom splitting and nuclear bombs. But it was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) that offered the most famous argument against reductionism. Carson pointed out that when scientists developed pesticides to kill specific insects, they didn’t take sufficient account of the knock-on effect on the environment, including the starved or poisoned birds whose absent songs would manifest in increasingly silent springs. Half a century on, we are aware of many examples of the damage reductive thinking can do, especially the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity, changing the whole climate in the process. In Here Be Monsters, Richard King deftly explores another area of concern, which he calls ‘technoscience’, a mix of science, technology, and neoliberal capitalism that reduces everything to its parts – to genes, bits of information, and individual consumers, losing sight of the whole person and their whole community.

... (read more)

We like to think that we would stick up for ourselves after being wronged. No one wants to be a coward. Often, though, faced with the realities of power, wealth, and superior resources, we shrink from the good fight. More worryingly, humans can misdiagnose or externalise an issue, rationalising it away. We take a problem grounded in interpersonal relationships, politics, or some other social arrangement, and convince ourselves it is an objective, natural state of being. After all, as distinguished artificial intelligence researcher and author Toby Walsh, author of Machines Behaving Badly: The morality of AI, says: ‘We are, for example, frequently very poor at explaining ourselves. All of us make biased and unfair decisions.’ 

... (read more)

Privacy crises come in waves, usually spurred by public panics over new technologies and their exploitation by those in power. In the 1890s, it was the evils of ‘instantaneous photography and newspaper enterprise’ that pushed Harvard jurists Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis to famously advocate for a new common law (‘judge made’) right to privacy. In the mid-twentieth century, the availability of the contraceptive pill set the stage for the US Supreme Court’s declaration of a constitutional right to privacy in the (now threatened) decision of Griswold v Connecticut (1965). Similarly, fears about ‘King Kong’-sized government data centres ultimately led to the passing of the US Privacy Act 1974. In her latest book, The Fight for Privacy, Danielle Keats Citron, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, paints a vivid and compelling picture of privacy now under siege by online invaders. She argues convincingly for a new US civil right to ‘intimate privacy’, and sets out a precise and practical path towards achieving it.

... (read more)