Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To Err is Human



Evgeny Morozov is a technology visionary whose articles are appearing with more frequency in the pages of The Times. His recent “The Perils of Perfection” came out in March (NYT, 3/2/13), but at first one can’t tell if it’s an April fools prank. He describes LivesOn, “a soon-to-be-launched service that promises to tweet on your behalf even after you die.” He goes on to describe another site Superhuman and quotes the owner of the site's own description of a service that “helps people to be superhuman.” According to Morozov, technology is out to rid life of its intrinsic inconvenience. Boredom, forgetfulness are all on the chopping block, with the help of new products. He quotes Randi Zuckerberg of Facebook about a new app called Seesaw that enables you to “crowdsource absolutely every decision in your life” and brilliantly remarks that “Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher who celebrated the anguish of decision as a hallmark of responsibility, has no place in Silicon valley.” Ray Kurzweil, presents another version of this in his attempt to use microprocessors to remove the pesky problem of death. In The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Kurzweil predicts that technology will eventually do what medicine can’t, which is to offer the promise of eternal life. What is interesting about Morozov is that he brings an old fashioned educated humanism to bear on the promise of a technological utopia. Underlying Morozov’s critique is the notion that abolishing imperfection places us into a morally ambiguous dehumanized universe. What other writer on modern technology would even have heard of Leszek Kolakowski's l964 essay, “In Praise of Inconsistency” more or less quoting it thusly, “this breed of the inconsistent is still one of the main hopes of the human race” (or could cite Ortega y Gasset as Morozov does). The specter of totalitarianism plainly informs Morozov’s aversion to millenarian technophilia. One wishes that the absurdities he offered in evidence were just jokes.

2 comments:

  1. jylle benson-gaussApril 9, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    A fascinating topic! If technology relieves humanity of our fears of mortality, what will follow? A blossoming of attention to our present self-inflicted predicaments? A bounty of rational thought (though still compromised by our penchant for the new, bright shiny ideas rather than the practical proven ones)? Human nature is less like the single-minded heroic drive that produces Great Deeds than it is like an onion, where peeling back one smelly layer reveals another, equally pungent, underneath. Should we revel in our paradoxes and inconsistencies, or cure ourselves of them? Can technology offer an answer to the ultimate question: "Why am I here?"

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  2. You don’t need technology to answer the question why am I here? You are here to perceive the world.

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