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We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.


  1. January 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    of course we can. but we need humanity to advance at a rate that somehow meets the technological advancement, and we dont have that.

    we are losing all rights to privacy as everyone carries location tracking, live-mic computers with cameras on both sides. people used to laugh at the idea that those devices were getting abused, but every argument thats been made was vindicated at some point in the mainstream media.

    war technology increases, and as it becomes more efficient and perfectly able to destroy any single human target on earth, we are increasingly callous and indifferent to its use. even the left refers to peace activists “hippies.” because only the right (says the left) goes to war without good reason…

    these are foundational ideas that the entire notion of the country was built on– and whether youre in the uk or australia or canada, the same ideals of freedom are trotted out and trampled on, one after the other.

    im a technologist, not a luddite. i love technology– it has great potential to transform society. but accepting technology with faith that it will all just work out, provided it offers some kind of convience, is the modern-times “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

    if we dont pay a lot more attention to the kind of people this technology makes us, this hope and potential will turn into hopelessness. unfortunately for our attention spans, technology is more perfectly distracting than ever.

    im not a prohibitionist– im all for alcohol when used responsibly, and technology when used responsibly. responsibility requires time to evaluate ourselves. so how much time have you got? and its not even your time that counts– its our time, everyone needs time to look at this. we cant shirk this one, or outsource it, or rely on other people to be responsible for us. watching the headlines each year, its very clear that an uninformed, irresponsible userbase isnt going to suffice no matter how things are designed. we have to catch up on the ethics of these things.

    • January 16, 2017 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks for your insightful feedback… I especially like your observation that humanity has not kept pace with technology… indeed, it seems to me that in the unending effort to make a profit technology gamers, app writers, and software developers are exacerbating the negative elements of humanity… I think we are on the same page in terms of technology’s promise AND limitations… I agree that our collective faith in technology is contributing to our laissez faire attitude toward global warming and our use of drones has depersonalized war to the point where we don’t even bother to calculate civilian casualties… I’ll be checking out your web page!

      • January 16, 2017 at 2:28 pm

        brace yourself, i didnt censor it today 🙂

        its generally a lot more polite… but i will understand if it doesnt meet your expectations. the fact that you appreciated the comment here is good enough for me 🙂

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