Public Square

The Positive Impacts of Technological Advances

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We’re in the middle of exploring how the church can respond to today’s technological advances. Today we want to look at the positive changes being brought about by technology.

Opportunities for Connection

We should not miss the opportunities to help people connect with one another using technology. It’s true that new communication methods are useful for people with ill-intent, but the general trendline is that freer communication for more people is a positive thing. It’s no accident that tyrants want to control access to information.

Democratized, ubiquitous access to the digital network creates more education and employment opportunities for individuals and businesses. The best quality schooling is available to more people. Businesses can serve more potential customers.

There is a strong place for human touch and experience alongside the robots and the algorithms. Robotic surgery will become commonplace. Indeed, wouldn’t you rather be operated on by a robot who performed thousands of successful surgeries than a new surgical resident? But we aren’t going to be easily comforted or assured by an algorithm. The synthesized voice smoothly saying, “There, there, you’ll be better soon” falls short of an authentically human connection. This is where person-to-person touch becomes important. There will be many “bedside manner” opportunities in the future economy.

Positive Changes in Devices

Technology becomes cheaper and therefore more accessible to more people. In 2015 an iPhone had superior capability to sixteen different devices in 1990 that would have cost over $10,000 at Radio Shack.

Devices become smaller and use less material. Technical advances improve our ability to recycles and repurpose materials.  We reduce waste.

Medical advances to minimize chronic pain, cancers, and neurological degeneration will be welcomed, along with replacement organs. Prosthetic limbs can be more advanced. Improved sensors help us detect problems sooner.  Remote robotic surgery will save lives. Algorithms have already been developed which can diagnose tumors using scanning technology at least as well as specialists, and they’re improving fast.[2] We might see nanotechnology complementing our immune system to repair tissues.  We’ll increasingly face questions about the ethics of augmenting human potential through design (different than treating medical problems). The twin pillars of imageo dei and “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) will become our guardrails to help us recognize situations where technology advances lose sight of the spiritual significance of people.

Opportunities for Jobs and Trade

Demographics will also influence the speed of technology adoption. Most of the developed world is aging rapidly, and many countries would have a declining population were immigration not counted. It’s likely that robotic assistance and algorithms will play a significant role in how we care for our elders. We should also welcome the blessings of people living better as they age, so they can continue to create and serve others. The developing world is much younger, and the need for education and job creation will drive technology adoption.

A friend of mine from Georgia has observed, “In olden times God moved his people around with war, and famine, and pestilence, and plague. Now he gives them new jobs.” One of the most significant opportunities of exponential technologies is to give more of God’s chosen people to enlarge their sphere of influence through new jobs, in more places, with more people over time. God is still sovereign in his power and influence.

Anthropologists have observed that civilization requires energy sources. Economists have noted that increasing the velocity of trade increases wealth for all. We’ve seen enormous progress in pulling millions of people out of the worst poverty in the past twenty years, largely thanks to new technologies and businesses.[3]  Increased energy availability and trade are the keys to further reducing abject poverty. 300 million people in India do not have electricity.  The persistent lack of clean water in Africa and SE Asia is fundamentally an energy problem. Where energy is abundant, good things follow. Energy is necessary for clean water and sanitation, for manufacturing and transporting raw materials and finished goods for trade, and for medicine and education. The digital experience thins out at the edge of abundant energy. Let us as leaders be grateful for technology advances which make energy available more cheaply to more people.

“What about protecting the planet?” That question will surface repeatedly. Christians must be good stewards of Creation; this was the first work project assigned to Adam (Gen. 2:15), and is still an obligation of business leaders today. Affluent people with more technological options have choices which can reduce the impact to the environment. Technology advances are improving solar cell efficiency and battery storage, which are key to a future with less reliance on fossil fuels.[4] In many ways we can become better stewards of our resources precious resources with better tools available in the future.

Next week we’ll finally get to the challenges these technological advances pose for Christians.

[1] Tesla Tests Self-Driving Functions With Secret Updates to Its Customers’ Cars  Over the last 18 months, Tesla’s amassed 780 million miles of Model X and S autonomous driving data, and every 10 hours, it gets another million miles’ worth.

[2] IBM points Watson at medical images to “learn” how to diagnose diseases 

[3] We’ve halved the number of people in extreme poverty.

[4] The Deal with Solar – the astounding potential of exploiting solar energy through more efficient means.

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