Keith Pillow: Manifesto

"Digital technologies should not be used to genetically or cognitively alter those without need"

The future of biotechnology is no longer on the way, it has seemingly been delivered. Innovations such as the skin gun, artificial lymph nodes, and self-reporting pacemakers are all hitting their stride. Technology is greatly expediting medical progress, but we must be aware of how that progress is utilized. Society, for the most part, will use this digital technology as it is intended. A small portion, however, will look to capitalize on opportunities for self-improvement. Those with financial means can already purchase a better self via cosmetic surgery. Fortunately, these changes are superficial but technology has given life to the idea of genetic or cognitive advantage. For a small fortune, couples can already genetically engineer a child to receive desired characteristics.

This is the point at which biotechnology must succumb to the division of need and want. The purpose of biotechnology should be to better the health of those in need, not enhance the ability of the fully-capable. With genetic or cognitive enhancement comes inequality. Those who can afford or are willing to use biotechnology to better themselves gain an advantage others cannot obtain. This may coerce individuals to embrace digital technology they oppose in order to keep up or simply outcast those who cannot afford it (Cakic).

If the presented statement were to be universally accepted, it would prevent further separation of class among society. It would also protect the dignity of the digital technology in question. Adding this statement to the collective manifesto would provide guidance in regard to biotechnology. As medicine pertains to and affects almost everyone, medical technology should progress in a controlled, fair direction that benefits all.

"Digital technology should not be solely judged on efficiency"

When a new iPhone or tablet is released, we are quick to reject “old” technology for what the new promises. Newer technology carries the allure of being faster, stronger, and generally better. There is no denying that this is typically the case as newer computers are faster, newer phones are more capable, and work is done more efficiently. The problem arises as efficiency becomes the sole benchmark on which digital technology is judged. As we are enticed by efficiency, we are blinded to other implications technology might hold.

Taking an Amish-like approach to digital technology would help balance any negative effects technology might present. As set forth by the Amish, technology should be evaluated on experience, not theory (Kelly 225). Just because digital technology is being reinvented and reintroduced at a frenetic pace does not mean we have to accept it at such a rate. This statement is not an accusation against a particular technological artifact, but a rather a protective clause. Technology does not have to be handled as delicately as the Amish feel necessary, but it should be evaluated through process. A sports car may be faster but produce more pollutants. Electronic medical records are certainly more efficient but create ethical and privacy issues. If we only evaluate technology in terms of its efficiency, we leave ourselves vulnerable to possibly unforeseen repercussions. As part of a collective manifesto, this principle serves as a guide to how digital technology should be evaluated in the public realm.

"Digital academic platforms should be moderated by both users and credentialed experts"

Digital technology has transformed the internet into a hub of endless knowledge. However, the quality of that knowledge should certainly be brought into question. With chat rooms, blogs, and many other digital platforms, everyone is entitled to an opinion. This is a favorable attribute of the Net in regards to access and the ability to publicize one’s knowledge. The downfall of such openness is seen when such input reaches academic platforms. This principal speaks to situations where certified experts are susceptible to having their knowledge questioned by unqualified participants. With the freedom of the Net, an individual has the ability to counter the soundest of arguments with irrational logic if he/she chooses. The majority of society will dismiss such commentary, but some irrational thoughts (often opinion based) will gain support. With enough support, the rationale portion of society may begin to question what they already know, thus degrading and rendering useless the knowledge of the expert.

The bigger issue in this type of situation concerns the moderation process. With no moderation, conversation will likely stray away from the initial topic. With user moderation, many trolls will not attempt to push across radical ideas, but some will as they feel they are just as qualified as those moderating. Giving experts a much larger role in moderating open academic platforms will enable much more effective moderation. If an individual is aware they are being moderated, particularly by someone of greater knowledge or standing, they are less likely to attempt to skew the information presented (Weinberger 78). Allowing both users and experts to moderate academic platforms protects the sense of accessibility such platforms create. Maintaining user moderation also protects the relationship between users and the experts by not granting unmeasured authority to one party. As part of a collective manifesto, this statement will set a guideline for protecting sound, academic knowledge. It seeks to reduce the degradation of knowledge by uniformed individuals.

"The incorporation of digital technology into adolescent education should be regulated"

Sherry Turkle offers the following: “On our mobile devices, we often talk to each other on the move and with little disposable time – so little, in fact, that we communicate in a new language of abbreviation in which letters stand for words and emoticons for feelings (19).

To current adolescents, this type of mobile communication is not a new language, it is simply their language. Teenagers seem to have a hard time communicating when not protected by a computer screen or keypad. This is not a knock against their social skills but rather an indication of how technology has shaped their social development. Their idea of what social skills are differs greatly from older age groups. This has caused a prominent generational gap between those of the pre- and post-technological eras. As one who grew up as technology was still in its infancy, I am in favor of emphasizing interpersonal interaction and face-to-face communication. To ensure future performance in a professional environment, middle and high school students certainly require technology be integrated into the traditional classroom experience, but this integration should be kept to a minimum.

Classes should not be completely technologically based. Group work and face-to-face interaction should be utilized equally to maintain a balance in developing technological and social skill. This principal is meant to address the overwhelming dependence adolescents are developing with technology. Technological progress simply cannot exist without human interaction. Individuals must be able to collaborate with one another on technological and societal issues. The school setting is one of the few environments where technological use can be universally controlled. Teenagers will text and Facebook chat as they please, but the importance of social and personal skills can be upheld through the regulation of the educational experience.

"Biotechnology should seek to promote health and longevity, not immortality"

We all strive for health and longevity throughout our lives. Preventative care, surgical procedures, and general medical practices have vastly benefitted from improvements in biotechnology. With such improvement, our hopes of living longer and healthier have become realistic expectations. As hope has turned to expectation, we have felt the need to develop new means of motivation. Biotechnology validates the idea of immortality. Upon initial consideration, most people are open and optimistic to the idea. Why not live forever? With an endless amount time, one can acquire countless memories or knowledge as they desire, or can they? Ray Kurzweil feels differently, claiming we cannot handle the psychological burden immortality would place on our shoulders.

Addressing our current cognitive abilities, he offers the following: “We would get bored with the level of intelligence we have and the level of experience we have available to us” (64). As Kurzweil points out, cognitive expansion must match or exceed the expansion of physical capabilities to balance the demands of immortality. This entails a complete transformation of the current sense of what it means to be human. Our minds would have to become digitized along with our bodies. Even without factoring in sustainability and population issues, the transformation described carries too many complications of its own. To achieve immortality would mean to eradicate the human race, replacing it with a more robotic life form. This should not be the aim of biotechnology. Biotechnology should remain focused on the human experience, not progressing beyond it. Adopting this principal to a collective manifesto would provide guidance as to where the line is drawn concerning biotechnology.

"Digital technology should not aim to mimic human social interaction"

As technology continues to progress, distinguishing between robot and human is not as black and white as it was or should be. Designers are beginning to master the reproduction of human mannerisms and appearance in technological beings. Influenced by physical and apparent social similarity, we are beginning to trust robots with fundamental aspects of the human experience such as romance and friendship. The increasingly intimate relationships individuals are forming with robots have given credence to the notion that such emotion “can be boiled down to information so that a robot can be both expert resource and companion” (Turkle 52). As a result, we are losing sight of obligations we hold to each other.

We no longer are expected to serve as friends, therapists, or even lovers if a robot can fulfill such need. This is an example of technology negatively integrating into society. In developing digital versions of ourselves, we begin to reshape how we view digital technology. Opposed to viewing and utilizing technology as a tool, we hold it as somewhat of an equal, leaving ourselves vulnerable to be controlled by technology. Technology should be meant to enhance the human experience, not replace it. As part of a collective manifesto, this statement would serve to protect the human experience by maintaining the vision of digital technology as a tool (or set of tools).

Works Cited

Cakic, Vince. “Smart Drugs for Cognitive Enhancement: Ethical and Pragmatic Considerations in the Era of Cosmetic Neurology.” Journal of Medical Ethics 35.10 (2009): 611-615. Web. 12 April 2013.

Hamilton, Craig. “Chasing Immortality, the Technology of Eternal Life.” What is Enlightenment? Autumn 2005: 59-68. Print.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Penguin Group, 2010. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.

Weinberger, David. Too Big To Know. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.