Technology Will Not Save Us

A day after writing about technology, culture, and innovation, I’ve come across two related pieces.

At Walter Mead’s blog, the novel use of optics to create a cloaking effect provided a springboard into a brief discussion of technological innovation. Here’s the gist of it:

“Today, Big Science is moving ahead faster than ever, and the opportunities for creative tinkerers and home inventors are greater than ever. but the technology we’ve got today is more dynamic than what people had in the 19th and early 20th centuries. IT makes it possible to invent new services and not just new gadgets, though smarter gadgets are also part of the picture.

Unleashing the creativity of a new generation of inventors may be the single most important educational and policy task before us today.”

And …

“Technology in today’s world has run way ahead of our ability to exploit its riches to enhance our daily lives. That’s OK, and there’s nothing wrong with more technological progress. But in the meantime, we need to think much harder about how we can cultivate and reward the kind of innovative engineering that can harness the vast potential of the tech riches around us to lift our society and ultimately the world to the next stage of human social development.”

Then in this weekend’s WSJ, Walter Isaacson has a feature essay titled, “Where Innovation Comes From.” The essay is in part a consideration of the life of Alan Turing and his approach to AI. Isaacson’s point, briefly stated, is that, in the future, innovation will not come from so-called intelligent machines. Rather, in Isaacson’s view, innovation will come from the coupling of human intelligence and machine intelligence, each of them possessed of unique powers. Here is a representative paragraph:

“Perhaps the latest round of reports about neural-network breakthroughs does in fact mean that, in 20 years, there will be machines that think like humans. But there is another possibility, the one that Ada Lovelace envisioned: that the combined talents of humans and computers, when working together in partnership and symbiosis, will indefinitely be more creative than any computer working alone.”

I offer these two you for your consideration. As I read them, I thought again about what I had posted yesterday. Since the post was more or less stream of consciousness, thinking by writing as it were, I realized that an important qualification remained implicit. I am not qualified to speak about technological innovation from the perspective of the technologist or the entrepreneur. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak about technological innovation from any vantage point. Perhaps it is simply better to say that my interests in technological innovation are historical, sociological, and ethical.

For what it is worth, then, what I was after in my previous post was something like the cultural sources of technological innovation. Assuming that technological innovation does not unfold in a value-neutral vacuum, then what cultural forces shape technological innovation? Many, of course, but perhaps we might first say that while technological innovation is certainly driven by cultural forces, these cultural forces are not the only relevant factor. Those older philosophers of technology who focused on what we might, following Aristotle, call the formal and material causes of technological development were not altogether misguided. The material nature of technology imposes certain limits upon the shape of innovation. From this angle, perhaps it is the case that if innovation has stalled, as Peter Thiel among others worry, it is because all of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

When we consider the efficient and final causes of technological innovation, however, we enter the complex and messy realm human desires and cultural dynamics. It is in this realm that the meaning of technology and the direction of its unfolding is shaped. (As an aside, we might usefully frame the perennial debate between the technological determinists and the social constructivists as a failure to hold together and integrate Aristotle’s four causes into our understanding of technology.) It is this cultural matrix of technological innovation that most interests me, and it was at this murky target that my previous post was aimed.

Picking up on the parenthetical comment above, one other way of framing the problem of technological determinism is by understanding it as type of self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, perhaps it is better to put it this way: What we call technological determinism, the view that technology drives history, is not itself a necessary characteristic of technology. Rather, technological determinism is the product of cultural capitulation. It is a symptom of social fragmentation.

Allow me to borrow from what I’ve written in another context to expand on this point via a discussion of the work of Jacques Ellul.

Ellul defined technique (la technique) as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity.” This is an expansive definition that threatens, as Langdon Winner puts it, to make everything technology and technology everything. But Winner is willing to defend Ellul’s usage against its critics. In Winner’s view, Ellul’s expansive definition of technology rightly points to a “vast, diverse, ubiquitous totality that stands at the center of modern culture.”

Although Winner acknowledges the weaknesses of Ellul’s sprawling work, he is, on the whole, sympathetic to Ellul’s critique of technological society. Ellul believed that technology was autonomous in the sense that it dictated its own rules and was resistant to critique. “Technique has become autonomous,” Ellul concluded, “it has fashioned an omnivorous world which obeys its own laws and which has renounced all tradition.”

Additionally, Ellul claimed that technique “tolerates no judgment from without and accepts no limitation.” Moreover, “The power and autonomy of technique are so well secured that it, in its turn, has become the judge of what is moral, the creator of a new morality.” Ellul’s critics have noted that in statements such as these, he has effectively personified technology/technique. Winner thinks that this is exactly the case, but in his view this is not an unintended flaw in Ellul’s argument, it is his argument: “Technique is entirely anthropomorphic because human beings have become thoroughly technomorphic. Man has invested his life in a mass of methods, techniques, machines, rational-productive organizations, and networks. They are his vitality. He is theirs.”

And here is the relevant point for the purposes of this post: Elllul claims that he is not a technological determinist.

By this he means that technology did not always hold society hostage, and society’s relationship to technology did not have to play out the way that it did. He is merely diagnosing what is now the case. He points to ancient Greece and medieval Europe as two societies that kept technology in its place as it were, as means circumscribed and directed by independent ends. Now as he sees it, the situation is reversed. Technology dictates the ends for which it alone can be the means. Among the factors contributing to this new state of affairs, Ellul points to the rise of individualism in Western societies. The collapse of mediating institutions fractured society, leaving individuals exposed and isolated. Under these conditions, society was “perfectly malleable and remarkably flexible from both the intellectual and material points of view,” consequently “the technical phenomenon had its most favorable environment since the beginning of history.”

This last consideration is often forgotten by critics of Ellul’s work. In any case, it is in my view, a point that is tremendously relevant to our contemporary discussions of technological innovation. As I put it yesterday, our focus on technological innovation as the key to the future is a symptom of a society in thrall to technique. Our creative and imaginative powers are thus constrained and caught in a loop of diminishing returns.

I hasten to add that this is surely not the whole picture, but it is, I think, an important aspect of it.

One final point related to my comments about our Enlightenment heritage. It is part of that heritage that we transformed technology into an idol of the god we named Progress. It was a tangible manifestation of a concept we deified, took on faith, and in which we invested our hope. If there is a palpable anxiety and reactionary defensiveness in our discussions about the possible stalling of technological innovation, it is because, like the prophets of Baal, we grow ever more frantic and feverish as it becomes apparent that the god we worshipped was false and our hopes are crushed. And it is no small things to have your hopes crushed. But idols always break the hearts of their worshippers, as C.S. Lewis has put it.

Technology will not save us. Paradoxically, the sooner we realize that, the sooner we might actually begin to put it to good use.

17 thoughts on “Technology Will Not Save Us

  1. It took me awhile to understand what you meant by “technique”, but now I get it.

    Perhaps there is a relationship between going to far in thought, which is the accumulation of knowledge or the known, and not building strong spiritual foundations. Sometimes we have to go back to the start, ignite our metaphysical heart and re-establish our connection to our Spiritual Father.

    There is a difficulty in doing this, when we have amassed great knowledge. Because the knowledge fights that which it cannot know or conceive of. The seat of consciousness has been developed before the metaphysical heart has found its place and direction.

    Self knowledge and knowledge of our environment is necessary for our survival and growth.

    However, knowledge is limited, always the past, the “known”. The past being the seat of consciousness, which is inquiring into the best future, looking for hope. The past cannot find it.

    The consciousness of mankind is made up of its content, which is the brain, which is physical memory = knowledge and experience. Which is the past, the past is the problem.

    The solution “I think”, no longer lies in the past but in the igniting of an inward spiritual flame. This needs to be the foundation of a human being, then the heart has found its true Goal and upon doing this we can cohesively bring about a technological revolution without inward division or fragmentation.

    The great change on this planet that is taking place is for humanity to establish these foundations which are incorruptible. Once we have done this and it doesn’t have to take very long, perhaps a few years, then we can go on to create and do things which are beyond what we can currently conceive of.

    That new knowledge is right here now, but it cannot be shared into the consciousness of mankind before we have done our ground work… for obvious reasons.

    So all we need now is “real” self knowledge and a bit of spring cleaning, we can get rid of all this crappy dirty technology and bring in the new next level :)

  2. Michael,
    I always learn from your posts because I think you see technology from a very different perspective than I do. As a scientist, I tend to view technology as an outgrowth of the development of science. I think there is clearly a huge realm you are exploring which starts with cultural and ethical perspectives and asks how these influence the development of technology. But I think to not allow science its place in the relationship is to miss out on a large amount of the “formal and material causes”.

    Also, I don’t think you have to be a scientist to look a bit more deeply into the science side of the causation. I think scientists themselves often can’t explain well what they do to a general public and you can certainly learn a lot from secondary sources describing the sociology of science and motivations of scientists. I think you will find a realm that has a slow, quiet evolution in some of the same way that these cultural analyses you work with can be drawn from thoughtful developments over centuries. From this side, technology is usually science’s more flashy, extroverted cousin. It can be easy to miss the science behind the press releases and overly dramatic descriptions of impact.

    I think that some of the sense of technological determinism comes from scientific development. Scientists continue to try to understand new things about the world. There are critics who say that all science is culturally constructed, but I think these people overstate the case, and there is also a very strong sense in which there is indeed a reality to be discovered and as long as people keep working on it, they will piece together more of this picture. Ask anyone working in theoretical computer science and they will tell you how little is known. In fact, any honest scientist should admit that there are huge realms unknown and not understood currently. And as long as society supports people to continue these investigations, the results will be a large driver of technology.

    As an example, one could consider the way the development of nuclear energy coincided with the development of quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. (For a great book on this topic, see ‘Brighter than a thousand suns’, by Robert Jungk) Richard Feynman remarked on this history that the scientific problems were just too sweet to ignore at this time, and this I think accounts for a big part of the reason why the bomb was made. Certainly the cold war and other cultural factors played important roles as well, but I don’t think the developing scientific world-view and infrastructure can be ignored.

    I’m not saying you totally ignore science in your writing, but if you are to seek the true (multiple) causes of technological development, I’d think that science might need to play a bit bigger role.

    1. I’ll start by saying that I always learn from your interactions with my posts. Your one of the most frequent commenters, and, as far as I know, the ranking scientific practitioner among them!

      With your key observation above, I am in agreement. The fullest understanding of technology must take in both its formal and technical aspects as well as the social and cultural. The two are inseparable and mutually constitutive. I would agree that there is a world against our knowledge rubs and of which it seeks to give an account. I’m also quite interested in the sociology and history of science, but my reading in these fields has been limited.

      I did want to comment on this observation: “And as long as society supports people to continue these investigations, the results will be a large driver of technology.” This is, I think, one of the opening by which “culture” gets into the techno-scientific mix. What does society support? How does it support it? These are questions of value, belief, desire, political realities, etc. Given my limited resources, this tends to be the area I gravitate toward.

      But, again, I do take your point. Such investigations cannot be wholly divorced from the material realities that are the stuff of scientific inquiry and technological innovation.

      1. Michael,
        Thanks for the response.
        I’m not sure I totally agree with the way you formulated my main point. Although I do agree that both culture and science are necessary to understand technology, I wouldn’t say that they are mutually constitutive and inseparable, though maybe I don’t understand what you mean by that.

        Consider for example the topic of cancer. I think society is pretty clear that finding cures to cancer would be beneficial, and thus worthy of support. Now consider it from the perspective of the scientist. Its certainly true that if a scientific project has anything at all to do with cancer research, this will be emphasized on grant requests. So, in this sense, society’s desire has been translated directly into research projects.

        But what are most scientists working under the banner of “cancer research” really doing? Most of them are cell biologists. They work on clarifying the mechanisms inside cells, perhaps focusing on one or two proteins or one or two chemical pathways. They may be motivated to look at certain pathways because they may be implicated in cancer mechanisms. But this is a far cry from saying that cell biology and people’s desire to not die of cancer are the same thing. The cell biology stands on its own, with its own modes of development and evolution in understanding. A cell biologist only interested in cancer to the exclusion of all other cellular mechanisms would likely not be a good cell biologist.

        So, I certainly agree that there are rich and important connections between science and society with technology perhaps as a mediator. But I do not agree that they are mutually constitutive.
        Science continues on to understand how some mechanisms work, and with this understanding new techniques- technology become possible.

        Society has a real interest in the work of scientists- both in supporting, and potentially limiting it or regulating it in some cases. But I don’t think this should be confused by saying that the knowledge produced by science came from the desires of humanity. Science that is working well looks into a realm beyond culture- into the mechanisms of pre-existing matter. I think it is fair to say that photosynthesis worked the same before there were people around to study it. Yes, we had to be interested enough to look, and organized and smart enough to understand what we found, but I think the scientific approach should be given at least a certain amount of independence and respect as a relatively objective approach to knowledge, despite its imperfections and sometimes slow mechanics.

        Anyway, maybe the workings of science are not directly in your interests, but I do think its an important and irreducible part of what creates the possibilities for technology.

        1. Or, of course, it could be my own failure to make myself clear! Let me give it one more pass. What I mean by saying that culture and the sciences are inseparable is that, taken as a whole, you can’t have science as an enterprise without culture or society. In one sense, this is a rather banal point to make. The institutions and infrastructure that Big Science possible require the marshaling of immense resources, material, financial, etc. There are no longer any gentlemen naturalists who pursue science as a matter of leisure. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that if there were a cultural collapse, because of an energy crisis for example, or if budgetary pressures diverted huge sums of money from publicly funded research, then the scientific enterprise as we now know it would grind to a halt.

          Now, this says nothing about the particular shape that the progress of scientific inquiry takes in the lab as it were, which I think is your main concern. Although, even here, is it not possible to conceive of the lab as a kind of culture with its own social rules and pressures (in the pursuit of funding, for instance) that work alongside the more concrete realities that science seeks to understand. In other words, I don’t mean to deny the reality or independence of the physical world (photosynthesis happens whether we know about it or not). But there is a distinction between the world that is there to be understood and the humans who seek to understand. Humans being humans, whatever they set their minds and hands to necessarily involves the cultural forces and contexts that have led to that moment when they encounter the world in pursuit of understanding. This, in my view, doesn’t necessarily undermine or negate the value or success of their work. Nor do I intend by it to suggest that the work of science is thereby an exchange of signifiers without signifieds.

          It matters, too, I think what time scale we are considering. Within the time scale of the scientists day to day work we might perceive a greater degree of independence from the influence of culture (I’m worried, too, by the way that “culture” is a pretty imprecise term, but …). But when looked at from the perspective a one hundred or four hundred years, then I think the cultural forces directing and supporting the pursuit of science become more significant.

          Now swinging back your way, all of that said, I would guess that there is probably something like what we could call scientific momentum. In other words, independent of cultural forces, one discovery may lead to another and then another by a logic that is internal to the phenomena under consideration.

          I hope that clarifies some. I have the sense that in reality we are not too far from one another. Also, I wouldn’t say science is not an interest for me. It’s more a matter of prioritizing and feeding too many interests!

          1. Actually my intuition is the opposite of yours regarding time scales. I tend to think that it is more in the long term that science obtains more objectivity than in the short term. In the short term you see scientists’ interests tied more or less closely to their cultural context. But as culture shifts, and science attempts to build one concrete picture that fits together with all that went before, it gains a larger degree of certainty. And at least in those areas of the world that haven’t changed very much– say planetary systems, or plant biology, or the properties or light and optics– I think this works very well. There’s an unevenness with respect to which topics are of concern at a given time, but the attempt to make one big picture, and the ability to usually repeat experiments from time past does make for a kind of progress that builds.

            I think this gets a little murky when it comes to a topic like ‘computer science’. Here, we don’t have something quite so clear that is just out there and we are investigating. We are investigating potentialities of systems that may have only recently come into existence. So the argument about long term big picture building is less clear. Still; you might connect a good amount of it to development in mathematics, which I think is also a slow somewhat consistently building enterprise.

            Its really this slow background that I wanted to emphasize. In the case of Alan Turing and artificial intelligence, or the development of the invisibility optics in one of the articles you link to above, the developments are incremental within a longer, slower history. And I do believe there is a certain amount of inevitability to what we discover. Solid materials are made of atoms, and though there is some variety in different ways we might describe it, some of it is really there waiting to be understood, whenever and by whomever.

            This is how I see things, in any case. Its really part of the faith of being a scientist, I suppose. Why would someone spend so many years doing such detailed work on such a small thing if they didn’t believe in some sense there was something incremental and progressive about the whole process?
            What motivates particle physicists to try to find a couple more decimal points on the branching ratios of different kinds of particle production? They must believe that this knowledge is solid and will last and is somehow important in the world. And I guess I more or less share that faith as well.

  3. dear Michael; many thanks for a most interesting article. I found it particular illustrative since I am occupied with the (technological/social) issues concerning our build environment, i.e. architecture. If there is one element vital for our private and social life it is our home, which in turn is part of our (build) environment. Nevertheless: architecture is no guerantee for a home , as well as technology is no ‘guarantee’ for living: a home is not about technology in the first place. Now that more and more objects are connected to the internet (of things/people) we simply cannot argue that our (build) environment – e.g. our home – remains what is always was. in that sense ‘home’ and ‘privacy’ need another connotations as well. In your words, if technological determinism is the product of cultural capitulation and a symptom of social fragmentation, what is it with regard to what we consider our most private environment, i.e. our home?

  4. Boaz,

    I’m pulling out from the thread since it only branches four deep.

    In any case, I see your point about the time scale, and I wouldn’t disagree. What I was thinking was that the scientist studying computer science, say, in the way that they are wouldn’t necessarily be doing so were it not for developments in the early modern period, the nineteenth century, the mid-twentieth century, etc. In other words, there’s a long trajectory that has brought about that present day scene in the lab.

    I think our difference may be that I’m looking at all that surrounds, supports, encourages (etc.) the enterprise of science and the scientists, while your focus, seems to me, to be on the work of the scientist. Perhaps, I’m wrong about that. I do agree with your description of the incrementalism of scientific discovery and the “certain inevitability” you speak of.

    Now I must say, though, that your last couple of paragraphs and the questions therein were really interesting. Why indeed? I’m sure that the sense that you’re contributing to a larger project of discovery is part of the answer. But what if we push a little further? Why is that a value? Why care about that? What animates the “faith of the scientist” as you put it?

    Again, I’m not trying to disparage that faith–much good has come of it–although, as you know, I do think it can also be dangerous if not bounded by certain moral considerations. But I don’t think it is “natural,” i.e., I don’t think this is just how all humans at all times think about knowledge and the world. That faith, it seems to me, ultimately has roots that cannot be reduced to the scientific enterprise itself, the enterprise is the product not the producer (although its success is reinforcing). In other words, if you had been born in another time and place, would you still share that faith? I’m inclined to doubt that you would. But, of course, I could be wrong.

    Let me thank you again for this exchange. It’s been very helpful.

    1. Michael,

      Glad to hear this was useful for you.

      I did want to, in some way, stick up for science. Of course you are in no way obligated to be interested in the content of science, or the experience and motivations of scientists, but when you claimed that you were getting at the main causes behind technology development without mentioning development in the content of scientific theory and understanding, I was motivated to comment.

      The question of computer science versus the other sciences is an interesting one. Computers didn’t exist before people built them, so the view of science as trying to understand mechanisms existing in “nature” is less clear here. I’d be inclined to say its not really science. It is mathematics and engineering, but not science. Certainly some people would disagree with me.

      Regarding the article you linked to on Twitter:
      I found that the author showed a good understanding of the spirit and practice of science. The provisionality of scientific explanation and the centrality of curiosity correlate with my understanding.

      As for whether the faith of the scientist originates outside of science, this may well be so. I think we may be in a time today when the foundations of science do need to be considered more carefully, and other disciplines, such as philosophy and history and perhaps even religion should be considered for a deep understanding.

      You may be right that what we mean by science today didn’t exist in the same way 400 years ago. I’ve done some reading in history of science, but can’t say I have a full grasp on it. I know there are authors like Feyerabend who think there is no clear “scientific method”. It is basically, that which works at a given time. And what has worked has been very different at different times. Still, I’d like to think this is a somewhat extreme view, and that a scientific method can be picked out, more or less.

      Thinking about the topic of the relationship between science and society, I sometimes think of the novel “The Glass Bead Game” by Herman Hesse. The players of the game operate within their own world, and a time is reached when their connection to society, and what they are giving back becomes tenuous. Perhaps its more a representation of the whole of intellectual life, and not particularly science, but I have sometimes thought of work in science and math with respect to the world portrayed in that novel.

      In any case, its a very broad topic, which requires more examples and specifics. I’m hoping to continue to have the opportunity to debate these topics with you in the future! As always, I appreciate the continuing flow of ideas you produce here that encourages people like me and others to engage, think things through, and hopefully come out of it with a little bit clearer understanding!

      1. And regarding my point about computer science not being a science, here is an interesting discussion I found

        I think this distinction is important because calling computer science a science to me takes our built worlds and calls them natural- studying them as one would the natural world. As is clear in this post I link to, this is not to disparage computer science. But I think that calling it a science disparages the world- it treats the simultation as the world itself.

        1. And one more point on this topic is about a memory I have from about 4 years ago- I went to a party with a bunch of people specializing in computer vision. I overheard a conversation where people were talking about “atoms” and I was interested and thought I might jump into the conversation. Listening a little more, I realized that they were not talking about physical atoms, but certain kinds of elements of images that they were programming computers to analyze. A visual scene was being broken down into atoms.

          What struck me about this language (and I had a few friends and a fair number of conversations with the people doing this research) is that it was completely ungrounded in the physical world. There really seemed to be an attempt to recreate the world in software without the constraints or structures that exist in the real world. This is certainly a fascinating kind of work, and we might call it art, or engineering, or even in some ways, politics, but I would not call it science.

          1. And to belabor this and overstay my welcome just a bit longer…
            Some of my strong disagreement with the “digital dualism” discussion from some time back had to do with this sense that the terms “atoms and bits” were being thrown around so loosely, and that basically computer science was being taken as science. Its much easier to study worlds where you know the rules (the world of a programmed computer or a simulation) than the world where you don’t know the rules– what science is really about.

            I guess I’m afraid that the spirit of science in which there are methods to study something you really don’t understand is being replaced by engineering where you simply replace that which you don’t understand by something you do.

          2. You’re welcome is always indefinitely extended! As a practitioner, I highly value your perspectives, especially since you strike me as being especially reflective about your field and the practice of science. I haven’t read the article you linked yet, but I can at least see where you’re coming from in your framing of computer science. Taken as a whole, your comments here raise important questions about the philosophy of science, a field I’m only superficially familiar with. I wonder if you’ve ever read the work of Michael Polanyi? He’s a mid-20th century chemist turned philosopher of science whose work, what little of it I’ve engaged, I find quite compelling. In any case, I appreciate your concern to keep the scientific enterprise tethered to the world, as it were.

            I will say this, though, I hope that my writing here does not give the impression that science needs to be defended. I respect the scientific enterprise and its value to society. I’m reminded of a lecture CS Lewis gave in which we examined the intertwining of science and magic in the early modern period. He prefaced it by saying that he realized not matter how plainly he stated otherwise, some people would accuse him of being “anti-science.” I realize you’ve certainly not made that accusation, but I wanted to be clear that I have no ax to grind against science per se.


  5. Thank you Michael- hospitable as always!

    I reread your post to see what prompted my concerns about science. You write that you are
    looking for “the cultural sources of technological innovation”. In the next paragraph, however, you state that you are considering “the efficient and final causes of technological innovation” without the qualifier of “cultural” this time. I may well have misread you, but I was concerned that you didn’t see science among one of the causes of technological innovation. So, I wasn’t saying that you are anti-science, I just thought that perhaps you thought that science wasn’t particularly important and that the “cultural matrix” was where the real causation was located.

    You also write, “The material nature of technology imposes certain limits upon the shape of innovation. From this angle, perhaps it is the case that if innovation has stalled, as Peter Thiel among others worry, it is because all of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.” Rereading this, I suppose this is where science enters, via the material nature of technology. I just thought this was a little vague, and prompted me to suggest that science might need to play a slightly larger role in an account of technological innovation.

    From here, however, I started to think about the fact that much of the technology you consider on this blog (and where a lot of the action has been recently) is related to communication and computing technologies. The relevant science in this case would then be computer science. But since I am a little doubtful as to whether computer science is really science, perhaps I am wrong to push science as the relevant force determining technological development. Maybe in the case of these communication technologies, it really is the “cultural matrix” that is the important factor more than an underlying developing science. This reminded me of my encounter with the computer vision researchers I mentioned above, and the strange feeling I had about the nature of the research they are doing. I do think that this research in computer vision (and artificial intelligence) is an important driver of technological development today. I have personally had a hard time feeling enthusiastic about this research, even if I have had friends working on it, and I could find the mathematics interesting. I see mostly the negative sides of the applications of this research — military and social control and devaluation of humanity in ways you have written many interesting things about.

    Anyway, maybe that clarifies a little my thought process here?

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