There is a prevailing view that technology can be a source of great social harm. From the days of Luddites smashing Spinning Jennys in the cotton mills of the 18th century to present-day fears about the perils of social media for our younger generation, there is an idea that technological development is somehow damaging. But in reality, technology is overwhelmingly a force for good.
Just think about the incredible resource that is the internet. With global access to this hub of information, people can learn new skills, acquire knowledge, study and get qualifications, all through online platforms. Through crowdfunding, people can find monetary backing for all sorts of projects that would previously have been unattainable. And even marginalised populations are being granted access to resources they never thought possible.
Lifesaving technology in the form of healthcare, information technology and finance now have enormous reach, with more than five billion mobile phones on the planet giving huge numbers of people increased access to information.
Developers have created apps that can help you learn languages, grow food and learn new skills. New ideas such as Blockchain allow people to transfer and store money online safely. On the whole, the internet has brought us closer together, with our shared experience allowing us to break down barriers and learn more about the world.
Of course, it is not all good. We have online bullying, data breaches and even a US president who threatens military intervention via Twitter, but the social good far outweighs the negatives aspects of technology. And the future is overwhelmingly positive too. Think about the benefits of 3D printing. Need a new piece of specialist medical equipment in a remote location? Then simply download the schematics and print it out.
Even big data, much in the news recently for its potential misuse, has enormous potential for doing good in the future. It can be utilised in areas like health, to spot trends emerging in public wellbeing, offering solutions to epidemics and more. And having access to information that they would never otherwise be able to collect, means scientist can use it for our collective benefit. With the right permissions in place, of course.
Then there is the positive side of social media, allowing people to organise protests and meet like-minded people, even in repressive states. The role of social media in the Arab Spring has been much lauded, and having a safe space online to share opinions and find out the truth beyond propaganda has enormous potential.
Of course, all this needs to be managed and monitored to protect individual freedoms. Information should be private and new issues such as ‘fake news’ need to be countered correctly. But on the whole, just like the industrial technology of the 18th and 19th century powering a revolution that created the modern world, today’s technology is what our future will be built upon. And more egalitarian education and sharing of knowledge can only be a good thing.