I like to consider my self a technologist and a futurist. As such, I not only enjoy about reading the latest advances in Wi-Fi or microchip fabrication; but I also enjoy contemplating how technology is shaping our society. Every facet of our life is being impacted. Unlike the pure sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.) which are done for their own sake, the applied sciences (engineering) are conducted to help expand benefits to society. Of course the almighty dollar has a play in there somewhere. Ethics, law, society, relationships, and business methodology are but a few of the facets of life that are being impacted by information technology (IT being the merger of computer and communication technologies).
At the start of the 21st century there is great potential for good or evil in the world. Digital technology has thrusted the far-reaching and deeply penetrating revolution of information upon us; dwarfing the agricultural and industrial revolutions in both the speed of change as well as the number of possibilities offered. We stand on the edge of a very sharp knife; to one side is a world that has been the dream of a great many idealists which is a utopia of peace, happiness and knowledge. To the other side is a darkness reminiscent of H.G. Wells’ novel “1984” where Big Brother is always watching and the human spirit is all but extinct. Information is not for the select and enlightened few; it is a right for all people regardless of race, age, gender, creed, religion and any other forms of distinction we may invent. Just as America was the test bed for representative democracy, the world itself could be the playground of a more true form of democracy where quite literally every person has a voice and their voice counts. The Open Source movement seems to be the banner carrier of this ideology. Software by the people, for the people.
I envision a world where access to Internet-ready computers would be inalienable human right, just like freedom of speech and religion. But seeing as we are still making inroads on the latter two, we will probably not see a computer for every man, woman, and child in our lifetime.
But of course there is the dark side of technology. And my concern not only comes from the malicious attacks of hackers and e-terrorists (though they are real threats that must be countered) but also from the far-reaching and often intrusive laws and policies established by ourselves in defense of attacks. In a post-9/11 world, we have a desire to secure ourselves from threats and dangers. My interest is how much privacy and freedom are we willing to sacrifice to feel safe and secure. I believe we cannot live in a world of risk avoidance, rather a world of risk management and threat reaction. And of course, we still need to be vigilant in being proactive to be safe, but not at the expense of freedom and privacy. When we look to shield ourselves from danger in every conceivable way, even at the expense of privacy, we ourselves become the greatest threat to freedom, not the terrorist. Case in point is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that is painted in such broad strokes it makes you wonder what the true aims of the legislation were.
As for computer technology ushering in the three horsemen of the apocalypse, I think not. Every new technology has brought about concern that it would initiate the end of mankind. But we have and will continue to learn how to adapt to technology and create checks and balances to ensure that our standards of morality and ethics will forever endure.