Kranzberg’s first law

Today in a talk in Paris about the future of technology I quoted Melvin Kranzberg. That quote may have been the most important part of my talk.

Kranzberg’s first law of technology states: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” I think this statement is key to any sensible policy that aims to deal with the effects of advancements in technology.

In a way, it is the same statement that William Shakespeare makes in Julius Caesar when he has Cassius say: “”The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves.”

Simply put, we don’t get to palm off responsibility onto our creations. It is Dr. Frankenstein, not his poor creature, who bears responsibility for the consequences of invention without ethical insight.

Similarly, when Skynet goes rogue, Miles Bennett Dyson and his team don’t just get to say “oops”. And Dr. Jekyll can’t simply undrink the potion.

Those of us who create new technologies have a particular responsibility to be aware of what we are doing. Rather than shy away from this responsibility, or to pretend that it is someone else’s problem, we should embrace it.

Either way, history will surely judge us. When that day of reckoning comes, we can only hope that our good judgement, the decisions we made which led to a more ethical future, will be deemed to be an even greater contribution than whatever it is we happened to invent.

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