Back in the 1990s, when I was still in college, a bestselling book came out, authored by Bill Gates (he who needs no introduction), titled Business@Speed of Thought. Those were the early years of the tech revolution when we Gen Xers were all excited about the internet’s potential to “change the world”. Indeed, those were the days (a line that successive generations repeat when talking about their student years) when we were introduced to the first computers that were making their way into our lives. I remember Gates and his Microsoft being at the forefront of the computing revolution and we sensed that technology was the game changer the world needed.
Now, in my mid-40s, I am no longer so sanguine about the emerging waves of technological innovation as the “invasion” of Big Tech obviated any hope that tech would transform the world for the good. Note, for instance, Fake News, that is bedevilling us to the extent that it has become harmful, indeed fatal to society. Or, the constant whining from parents about the excessive screen time, which is not only made Smartphones addictive, but, detrimental to the cognitive development of teens and pre-teens, and worse, made all of us lost in a miasma of Dopamine hits delivered continuously by their digital devices.
Moreover, the ever-evolving versions and models of our devices, which follow Moore’s Law (doubling of computing power every two years) lead to the “exponential acceleration” of life itself. In addition, Big Tech and the omniscient 24/7 Media along with assorted and sundry channels of entertainment keep us glued and occupied for the “instant gratification” that we are doled out nonstop. This “living for the moment” (not to be confused with the Zen Mindfulness concept of “living in the moment”) has made us victims of Present Shock, a term coined by the tech writer, Douglas Rushkoff, which describes how all aspects of our lives are now prisoners of short term and worse, instant term thinking, robbing us of the ability to plan for the future, a necessary evolutionary trait.
It was not supposed to be this way. We were to be the “masters” of technology and not its slaves as is the case now. For instance, some AI (Artificial Intelligence) powered innovations such as Deep Fakes and the like are so insidious that they can easily pass off for real, putting at risk entire lives and for that matter, entire nations. With others such as Transhumanism and the near possibility of machines passing the Turing Test (the threshold where machines begin to think like humans), one wonders where all this is leading to.
Having said that, I am not a Luddite (one who opposes technology for no reason) having worked and written as well as directly benefitted (even now my income depends on my Gig work) from the awesome power of tech. Moreover, in India, we were among the early gainers from the “boom” that tech revolutionaries like Gates pioneered. So, I cannot “betray” my past or jeopardize my future. On the other hand, I do believe that we seriously need to be rethinking our overdependence on technology and questioning whether it has gone too far.
Last, Business@Speed of Thought might be good for business, but, I doubt it has been good for our thoughts as Big Brother type of tech lording over us can lead us to an Orwellian Dystopia where there is nothing “private” about our lives and all that remains is an All-Seeing Panopticon of the tech-driven central brain. Much like the fictional series, The Truman Show, it does like our lives are now like living in a reality TV show, with the aforementioned overloads as the director, who “decides” everything.