You shouldn’t be surprised by that title. Technology does have limits even if we don’t think of them as such. This is not new of course, limits have always been there: they were present when Gutenberg invented his press and when Edison invented his light bulb. Limits are present even now, when we dream of Robots and colonizing Mars.
Some of these limits are quite obvious yet hard to surpass: we don’t have robots because we just haven’t figured out the best way to make them yet. Other limits are simple frontiers that we can cross, like controlling your coffee maker from your smart watch. Some others are not either obvious nor simple yet they are very present, like what happens to all the selfies you take and share? Are they still yours, can someone use them even if you haven’t agreed to that?
In the History of mankind, Technology of all sorts got to a certain point when someone would ask: “is using this Technology right? What will be next?”. It poses ethical questions as it happens with modern western medicine: we have Technology that allows a body to function even if the mind is gone. What’s right or what’s wrong there? It can’t be decided or sorted out by Technology itself. That’s a very clear limit to me.
Going back to that example of your selfies: can Technology help you protect what you produce with it? A picture you take of yourself with your smartphone, a picture you share in Facebook or other social networks, is it still yours once it gets shared, re-posted and sent beyond what you can track? Can Technology help you do that? If if did, would it be threatening other dimensions Technology impacts? (there would be no Social Networks if people didn’t share stuff after all) And what’s more important, would you allow Technology to control your privacy and intellectual property to the point you might not be allowed to share stuff?
There is a simple way of understanding what the limits of Technology are. It’s almost like an equation:
Technical + Ethical = limits
The Technical part might be harder to explain to people that’s not familiar with it, yet the Ethical part is bound to be the more controversial one. To put it in simple terms, Technical aspects of any type of Technology are understood by those who either design, configure or manufacture that Technology. Users of it have a basic understanding of how it works. Just enough to use it.
The Ethical aspects force people to think…should I use this Technology or not? It provides user and non-users alike with the possibility of sharing something that’s inherently human: their own opinion.
Technology is not just limited by our manufacturing capabilities. It will always find a frontier that’s hard to cross when it hits the Ethical barrier, our capacity to determine if something is or not right or proper. Lots and lots of Technology, invented and discarded suffered the fate of an ill-opinion, and other more dramatic and brutal has seen the light.
The limits are out there and Technology can’t beat them without us. Technology’s limits are simple to find: just look in a mirror and you will see one.
Also published on Medium.