Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Student Response to Conference by the Faculty: Technology Session

By Blaine Hadfield

A conflict that burdens the ethics of technology is the abstruse nature of technology itself. People are becoming less and less aware of how technology functions within particular applications of industry. As technology becomes better equipped to serve the specific requirements of an industry, it is more difficult to maintain up-date knowledge on the normative role of technology in a broad sense. Furthermore, the progression of technology loads the task of informing oneself with greater difficulty. So that it is not just the case that people are less informed about technology, but that it is more difficult to become so informed. To the extent that this is true, a conversation vis-à-vis the ethics of technology is outside of what most people can speak intelligently about.

Technology is powerful enough to rub up against issues of real ethical consequence. Today’s technology isn’t just exploring how to build a more efficient refrigerator, it seeks to extend life, end life, and grant real intelligence to the tools of our own creation. The problem is that as technology increases in capability, a person seems to be able to say less about the tasks that technology ought to serve. This results because of two reasons. One, people are less informed about what technology can accomplish. For example, there are many who would regard as science fiction the creation of biological robots that, when introduced into the blood stream, may perform medical tasks therein. Yet, nanotechnology is at the moment of this kind of creation. The second reason is that the ethical issues themselves are increasingly nuanced. A person says less about the morality of technology because they are less sure of their own ethical opinions regarding technology as it ought to be employed. For example, a person may have a strong ethical opinion about murder. We should not actively cause death to another. However, medical technology has the power to sustain life. And to the extent that it does, technology gives scenarios that may or may not constitute murder. Whichever stance a person wishes to assume on this issue, they are usually less inclined to maintain the position with the same fervor that would characterize their opinion on murder that is cold blooded. The point is that technology allows for nuanced ethical scenarios; the morality of which people are less decided about.

Thus, it seems as though our technology has outpaced our ethics. In which case, what kind of technology shall slide around our ethical thinking as that thinking fails to understand technology? Is it even possible that technology should be stalled for ethics? How does one legislate for such a pause when one does not understand the purposiveness of technology nor find agreement in ethics? These are difficult questions and yet these conditions are already set into play. And so, we have arrived. We have arrived and are without the answers.


Wireless said...

Interesting idea. I've never questioned whether technology is ethical or not. I've often considered how I use technology is ethical or not. Can ethics be built into a non-emotional object?

Don LaVange said...

Isn't the author (while I posted it, Blaine was the author) simply saying that technology becomes involves in ethical decisions and that those who use the technology don't have the expertise or ability to understand the ethical implications?

Wireless said...

Sure I agree that's what it is about, but the article caused me to think of other possibilities. Could technology be ethically wrong if it bypasses or blocks us from from questioning the ethics of any situation? Because the technology facilitates many tasks, the reasoning/moral decision making of the individual is also often bypassed.