Alex Lamb | Manifesto

I. We ought to be aware of technology’s unpredictability and what consequences that may have for individuals, societies, and the world as a whole.

In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly applies the evolutionary principle of genetics to technology. He introduces the three components of biological evolution—functionality (how adaptable a technology is), structural (inevitability of the technology to evolve), and historical (contingency of a technology) (123). When adapting this biological theory to apply to technology he changes the functional component to an “intentional” component, which is included to acknowledge that humans’ free will has at least somewhat of a hand in technology’s evolution (183). Kelly puts the majority of his focus on the structural component of the technium. He urges that the technium has a mind of its own and operates separate from humans, therefore it will inevitably evolve with or without our consent. He argues “inevitability makes prediction easier” (185). I believe inevitability will eventually come at a pace that we, as humans, aren’t able to compete with and technology could spiral out of control.

Therefore, there should be more focus on the historical aspect of technology—the contingency portion of evolution. A continuous theme throughout our class discussions is the unpredictability of technology. Technologies are often used in ways that were unforeseen by the inventor. Perhaps they have a primary use, but evolve into having a secondary use. This secondary use is contingent on the consumer that is using the technology. In a utopian society, secondary and tertiary uses are all benevolent; however, that’s not the reality of today’s world.

This principle should be adopted in attempt to bring the possible repercussions of adopting any unknown technology into a society to the society’s attention. An adoption of any new technology can cause a ripple effect on the user’s surroundings and I believe those surroundings should have proper understanding and warning beforehand.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2010. Print. (also cited in Statements IV,

II. We should never have a completely autonomous piece of technology that is able to make decisions on its own, beyond what we have programmed it to do.

A human mind is very intricate. The way humans think and rationalize is difficult to fully comprehend. It’s so difficult, in fact, that humans cannot even fully comprehend it. We have different wants and needs and each person is unique in how they obtain their wants and fulfill their needs. Cognitive psychologists study memory, decision-making, planning, and creativity, among many other cognitive processes. We, as humans, are autonomous; we can make our own decisions and we can foresee the consequences. Technology, despite what Kevin Kelly may think, does not have that capability and should never have that capability. The human hand that is involved in granting any decision-making abilities should always limit technology. Because we don’t even fully understand our minds, we cannot properly program a piece of technology to do what we do.

In The Techno-Human Condition, Allenby and Sarewitz quote the World Transhumanist Association’s definition of transhumanism and their promises that stem from that definition. The Association promises to “redesign the human condition” (6). I argue that we cannot redesign that human condition until we fully understand the human condition. In class, Professor Collier asked us to define human nature and identify traits that make us innately human. When no one responded, he said that if any of us could answer that we would probably win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Because of the uncertainty of human nature I don’t believe it’s possible to make a technology that emulates us. We are subject to emotions and whims and we already have enough trouble dealing with those around us. It doesn’t make sense to create an additional (and largely unnecessary) piece of technology that is able to make its own decisions into our lives.

Allenby, Braden, and Daniel Sarewitz. The Techno-Human Condition. 1st ed. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011. Print.

III. We ought to preserve hard copies of information and knowledge if, for some reason, the internet were to no longer exist.
Think of how inconvenient it feels when you are out of reach of a wifi connection or cell service and cannot immediately Google something. Now imagine how inconvenient it would be if wifi or cell service were totally unattainable. To take that situation to an even more hyperbolic level, imagine if there was no Google or internet to access with that wifi or cell service. The overarching theme in Morozov’s book, To Save Everything, Click Here, is that Internet-centrism is taking a hold on society at large. People are becoming extremely dependent on and trusting in the (capital I) Internet. But what would happen if there was no more Internet one day?

We should not get rid of books or encyclopedias, and certainly not whole libraries. These hard copies are essentially the “old school” version of storing your documents and such on a cloud. They can serve as a tangible “back up” that is always dependable and trustworthy, despite being less current or immediately up to date. If all of our conglomerate knowledge were stored on the Internet and we forfeited any alternative way of documenting that knowledge, we would be left with nothing if the Internet were to cease to exist. By preserving the hard copies, we at least have a basis off of which we can pick up from if something like that were ever to happen.

I chose this principle because I think there is still something to be said for a hard copy of a book that you are able to highlight and take notes in by hand. The unpredictability of technology also makes a backup plan necessary as we are so often told when turning in digital assignments. This is just that principle on a greater scale.

Morozov, Evgeny. To Save Everything, Click Here. 1st ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013. Print.

IV. We should never take away free will when implementing a technology.

Langdon Winner talks about the idea of technological determinism in the article we read called “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Technological determinism is “the idea that technology develops as the sole result of an internal dynamic and then, unmediated by any other influence, molds society to fit its patterns” (Winner, 1-2). I agree with Winner in that I don’t believe in technological determinism because it is too simplistic of a way to think of technology and its effects on society. But if it were to be true, would it take free will out of the adoption of technology? Possibly. Technological determinism supports Kelly’s idea of inevitable technological advancement, which may be a more pressing issue than initially thought.

I believe every consumer should have a choice in whether or not they would like to adopt a certain type of technology. The adoption of smart phones has been discussed in class quite a bit. Some people prefer their “dumb phones” because they feel it makes them less connected to the outside world via social media. I think this choice should always be one that they are able to make. “Dumb phones” are already being phased out. If you don’t currently have one, then you aren’t able to buy them new (at least not easily). Perhaps this confirms Kelly’s claim of inevitability, but I think we should fight back against this constant ushering towards new technology if that’s not truly what we want. We cannot and will not lose our voice amidst the hum of the technium.

Winner, Langdon. "Do Artifacts Have Politics?." (1986): n. page. Print. <http://www.collier.sts.vt.edu/engl4874/pdfs/winner_1986.pdf>.

V. We ought to continue to use a human grading system for papers, rather than a computer algorithm that detects “good writing.”

This topic was heavily discussed during our Considered Replies assignment, which goes to show how strongly we, as a class and probably a society, feel toward the subject of computers grading papers. Computer grading takes all subjectivity out of the writing process. Students will be able to learn what it takes to get a good grade from the computer and then will only do the bare minimum in order to pass. Brooks mentioned that he knew a computer would be grading the essays he wrote on the GRE. He said he went back and substituted bigger vocabulary words for smaller colloquial words and changed certain sentence structures in order to tailor it to the algorithm that would be grading him. This is exactly what will happen if schools were to switch to computer grading papers. This does not promote a freethinking learning environment. Instead education is being unnecessarily standardized in a subject that thrives off of creativity.

A computer can easily grade math because there is either a right or wrong answer. But even in math, computers cannot completely replace a teacher. Teachers are able to show the student what he or she did incorrectly so that they are able to fix it the next time they have a similar problem. This element of teaching is eliminated if computers begin to grade papers. There would be little to no individualized feedback, leaving students little to no opportunity to become better writers.
I agree that some aspects of education need to be standardized in order to be put on an evaluated on an even scale, but writing should always be on a fluid scale.

http://www.salon.com/2013/09/30/computer_grading_will_destroy_our_schools/

VI. We should seek to use technology inside the classroom to enhance the learning environment if and when possible without becoming fully reliant upon it.

With all that being said about computer grading, I do believe technology has a place in the classroom. Students must know how to use technology because it helps them become more competent outside the classroom. It is proper preparation for high school students to make an easy transition to a college setting and it provides preparation for college students when breaking into the workplace. Virginia Tech is often commended on its students’ technological abilities, which sets us up for (hopefully) better jobs and more opportunities.

When our age demographic was in elementary school, an overhead projector was considered technology. Now technology is iPads, MacBooks, and Kindles. Each of these technologies can be used in constructive ways. Kindles provide cheaper books for schools to purchase, which can lead to a more diverse reading list for English teachers. iPads can supplement pretty much any learning activity…because there’s an app for that.

Like we have discussed in class, games are being pushed on us for various reasons, which makes iPads an ideal platform. We have mostly discussed games as incentives to buy consumer products, but students have been using games as learning tools since we were in elementary school; the trend is just recently becoming more widespread.

Computer games and other technologies can be used as an additional resource, but they must not be the only resource. As I made clear in Statement V, I do not think machines can replace teachers. The aforementioned technologies are good resources, but teachers will always be a school’s greatest resource.