Looking to the Future to Solve Problems of the Present

Looking back at today and the past topics that were presented, it seems that we touched on philosophy a lot more than science or even public policy.  Until taking this class, I never had been exposed to philosophy or had to think as critically as I had to about the unintended consequences of an action.  

Compared to the past discussions, Professor Sweeney’s one takes the cake when it comes to the “somewhat-unsolvable-problems” of the Internet.  And it is the most frustrating because it is so difficult to come up with any sort of solution that fits every situation.  There is just so much nuance and unique cases that come with the Internet.  It is as if that if there was any law that needs to be passed, it would only apply to a super-specific case.  

Today’s post will touch base on some more philosophy and some observations and thoughts that I had about the Internet.  First, we will cover some philosophy about truth on the Internet.  Finally, we will talk about some observations about the prevalence of technology in our lives and the trends in communication.

When Professor Sweeney talked about the fake Facebook ad that Cher is dead, it reminded me of the time when my friends mom announced that Jackie Chan was dead.  Where she got that information was Facebook, and none of us bothered to check whether or not Jackie Chan really did pass away.  At the time, I did not really care that he passed, but as I watched more of his movies with my dad and my sisters, I began to feel sad that such a great actor passed away.  No one would be able to see any of his movies.  Fortunately, I was wrong because I saw a movie that featured him, and to add on to this, he even visited Saipan one time to check out the newly casino.  

Although I’m glad that I was wrong about Jackie Chan being dead, looking back I am not happy about the fact that I was deceived and did not bother to corroborate information that I heard from someone else who heard it from Facebook.  My friend’s mom did not mean any harm, but we were all victims of misinformation.  However, it did not matter whether or not we learned the truth later on.  What mattered was the fact that a lie could have the power to make us reconsider the truth.  Corroboration of sources helps us purge doubt about the truth of a statement, but the Internet cannot really help us with the corroboration because it could return more information that support the lie.  The Internet is a place where we have access to information, but as far as we know, there is no tool that can fact-check every piece of information that goes online.  We can propose AI or machine learning, but what would be their standards, and who get to decide what standards are being programmed?  It is not an easy question to answer or a straightforward problem to solve, but it is better to create some sort of solution that attempts to reduce the risk of fake news rather than do nothing about it, and I think that AI could help us with that.  

Expanding on the idea about how technology could help us determine the truth, technology has been ever present in our lives.  Although it is quite obvious, it is quite frightening to see how integrated in our lives it has been.  I grew up without much technology or an Internet connection, but now, if I do not have Wifi, it feels as if the electricity has gone out.  It is so weird and scary to have that feeling.  And this is not limited to me.  There are many others who feel as if an Internet connection is one of the most fundamental needs of humans.  And the rate at which people are using technology is not changing within generations, but rather siblings.  My first two younger sisters and I, who were born around the turn of the 21st century, grew up with the idea that screen time could be limited, but my youngest sister, who was born in 2011, lived in a time where everyone had access to a screen.  I’m glad that my mom limits my baby sister’s screen time not because I am jealous of her, but because she is trying to make her remember that there is a real world out there.  This problem would only get worse as technology evolves, and technology is not evolving linearly, but rather exponentially.  The generation before me know of a time when there was no Internet.  My generation was born at the turning point of the Internet.  My baby sister was born into the Internet.  This difference is going to create a really interesting dynamic between generations/siblings as technology progresses.

Touching on the last point, I would like to circle back to the later part of the first point I made.  The Internet is basically a tool that helps us obtain information, whether it is in the form of an article, a YouTube video, or a Snapchat post.  This is not the first time that a tool has revolutionized the way we obtained information.  First it was the development of human language.  Next it was writing.  Then it was the printing press, then the telegraph, then the telephone, then radio, then television, and then the Internet.  I might have missed other technologies, but what I want to point out is the rate that these technologies appeared.  Majority of them were developed within 200 years past of today, which is not a every long time considering the timeline of humanity.  Our access to information has been exponential.  However, what is also interesting to point out is the speed that we receive this information.  It too is exponential.  Writing takes time to disperse, and television and radio are not widely accessible as a smartphone with an Internet connection.  It appears that the faster we obtain information, the more radical changes are appearing in society.  And further tying this to the first point, the easier it is to spread doubt about the truth.  Writing has the risk of preserving lies.  TV and radio are ways to spread those lies quickly.  The Internet combines the worst of both words.  Access to information may have brought us to where we are in the technology tree, but it does not appear that our biology and psychology can handle this much information.  

There is no clear-cut solution to any of this, and these problems are only going to get bigger and much worse.  However, what Dean Smith said about looking to the future for solutions to the present appears to be the best way to solve these issues.  We cannot look back into the past because the past has never experienced a problem at this scale.  Looking ahead would be the best solution because by predicting unintended consequences early on, we have the ability to minimize that damage that it could cause.  

1 Comment »

  1. Jim Waldo

    November 21, 2017 @ 9:20 pm


    Once again a lot of threads being woven together…

    The kinds of disruption that have occured because of technology do seem to be speeding up, but we also have more practice in dealing with the rate of change. I remember when the number of transistors in a radio were in the single digits (and that seemed magic); now our computers have billions of transistors. But we have gotten used to change being rapid.

    I do worry that the institutions that we used to rely on (like the federal government) have not kept pace with the rate of change. They are designed to move slowly, which when they were designed was a good thing. We now need to find ways of adopting and adapting at a much higher speed. I don’t know what the right institutions will be, but we (and, even more, you and your classmates) will need to figure them out.

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