Evaluating and Controlling Technology

Evaluating and Controlling Technology
Information, Knowledge, & Judgment
• We have to always be mindful that with all the information on the Web, much of it is wrong.
• Search engines rank Web pages by popularity, not by evaluation of their accuracy; also, we talked
about how search engine companies may include or leave out on search results at their discretion.
• Reporters are trained to use certain key words or key phrases in their articles so that they rank high –
does this hinder accurate information?
• Unlabeled advertising is placed on blogs and social networking sites; owners of companies put great
reviews of their company/product online; how do we know if/when we are being manipulated?
• Wikipedia – in spite of errors, sloppiness, bad writing, and sometimes distortions, most of Wikipedia
is surprisingly pretty accurate and valuable (most of the time) – good to use for background but check
essential facts.
• Citizendium – created by the founders of Wikipedia – similar to Wikipedia, but with more protection
of the integrity of the information
Wisdom of the Crowd
• Yahoo! Answers, Ask Jeeves, and other sites where people respond to others’ questions – something
to be careful of – sometimes the way a question is worded has a big affect in what responses are
• Yelp.com – that law suit against the chiropractor that I mentioned earlier in the semester – they
settled out of court. But now, there’s another lawsuit against a pediatric dentist by parents of a little
boy who say that the dentist gave their son a filling using mercury and made him lightheaded from
laughing gas. Yelp is protected from lawsuits because of the safe-harbor provisions of the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
biddingfortravel.com (for Priceline) and betterbidding.com (for Hotwire and Priceline)
Health sites online – another area to be cautious
Some worry about the impact of inaccurate information on vulnerable people – how to protect them
from dangerously wrong information, or just dangerous information like bomb making info or how to
commit suicide, etc.?
Book also talked about manipulation of images… (Forrest Gump chats with JFK) - how easy it is,
how some newspapers and magazines have gotten in trouble for manipulating images – (freelance
photographer darkened smoke in photos of conflict between Lebanon and Israel in 2006; Reuters
pulled hundred’s of his pictures from its collection of photos for sale); another example was with a
National Geographic cover where they manipulated the images of the pyramids to make them fit on
one page, but in real life, they’re not that close together… where is the line between editorial
content and aesthetics?
Writing, Thinking & Deciding
I have a spelling checker.
It came with my PC.
It plainly marks four my revue,
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
I’m sure your pleased too no.
It’s letter perfect in it’s weigh,
My checker tolled me sew.
Do things like spell checker (and calculators, etc.) encourage mental laziness???
Did you know… Microsoft made a conscious decision to not include some words in the thesaurus of
Word 2000 (and later versions). For example, it lists “trick” as the only meaning for “fool”. It omits
synonyms “clown”, “blockhead”, “idiot”, “ninny”, “dunderhead”, “ignoramus”, and others – all
present in earlier versions. Microsoft said they eliminated words that may have offensive uses – do
they have an ethical responsibility to include all the words, or a social responsibility to remove
potentially offensive words from the language?
Abdicating responsibility – when people don’t want to accept responsibility for something – they just
blame it on the computer – when policemen arrest someone for whom there is someone with a similar
name who has a warrant; in some cases, it’s a stronger defense to say that you did what the program
recommended, rather than saying you did what you thought was best – almost encourages
professionals to abdicate responsibility and put the blame on the computer program
Computers and Community
• Do you agree with this statement? - - Computers reduce face-to-face gathering and the Web hurts
local community vibrancy.
• Many people spend hours on the computer instead of with family and friends; some stay up all night
in front of their computer screens playing games, surfing the Web, etc.
• Are there anti-social effects of computer usage? Some who are already socially awkward find
computers easier to deal with than people – the computer provides an excuse for them to not
overcome their social awkwardness.
• In an extreme case, a mother neglected her children and left them in filth while she surfed the
• Some believe that electronic communication will erode family and community life to the point where
people will mourn the loss of depth and meaning in their lives.
• Some studies suggest that people read more newspapers, magazines, and books and watch serious
news programs on tv as much or more than those who are not serious computer users.
• Many say the email brings them closer to family and friends.
• With the popularity of social networking sites, cell phones, IM, sharing of photos, etc. the Web is a
very social place.
• A study of adults at Stanford University in 2006 showed that 6% of adults said their relationships
suffered because of their Internet use.
• Internet Addiction is a real problem for some people. A study showed that many computer addicts
had other psychological problems and they would probably have some other problems like
alcoholism or gambling if not Internet addiction.
• Does the violence from video games, videos posted online, movie special effects, etc. desensitize us
and make it more appealing to young, troubled kids? Is there a relationship between the violence
they see to the increase in school shootings and violent crimes committed by teens and kids? Is there
even an increase in violence, or do we just hear about it more readily because of the ease and speed at
which we receive news these days?
The Digital Divide
• Those who have access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not.
• Over the years, more and more people have access to technology. By 2004, 70% - 75% of Americans
had access to the Internet from their homes.
• As is always the case, the new technology is expensive when it’s new and is first available to the rich,
and then over time, cost comes down and becomes available to more and more people. This
phenomenon has led some to think of the two groups of people as the “haves” & the “have-laters”
instead of the “haves” & the “have-nots”
• In the 1800s, those who burned the looms and factories and mills were called “Luddites”.
• The modern term for those who oppose new technology is either Neo-Luddites, or simply, Luddites.
• Luddite criticisms of computers (pages 377-378 in the book:
o Computers cause massive unemployment and deskilling of jobs. “Sweatshop labor is involved in
their manufacture.”
o Computers “manufacture needs”, that is, we use them just because they are there, not because
they satisfy real needs.
o Computers cause social inequity.
o Computers cause social disintegration; they are dehuminizing. They weaken communities and
lead to isolation of people from each other.
o Computers separate humans from nature and destroy the environment.
o Computers benefit big business and big government most.
o Use of computers in schools thwart development of social skills, human values, and intellectual
skills in children. They create an “ominous uniformity of knowledge” consistent with corporate
o Computers do little or nothing to solve real human problems. For example, Neil Postman, in
response to claims of the benefits of access to information, argues “If families break up, children
are mistreated, crime terrorizes a city, education is impotent, it does not happen because of
inadequate information.”
• Some of us see modern medicine as a lifesaving and life-enhancing boon to humanity; some Luddites
point out that it gave us the population explosion and extended senility. - - Do you agree with this
Accomplishments of Technology
• The book talks about many, many improvements to our lives, not only because of technology, but
also due to other factors as well. The Luddites disagree with this, saying that living and working
conditions are getting worse, we are running out of natural resources, that the environment is
deteriorating, and that we are less healthy.
• Some believe that other than disabled people, for whom computers and technology have been very
beneficial, the people who benefit the most from computers is the government and big business.
• Some believe that people can choose to use technology for good or bad; other disagree, saying that
once a technology is created, it plays its hand and does what it is designed to do – as though
technology is in control and some things are destined to happen because of technology.
• It is difficult to predict how new technologies will affect society.
• Some famous early predictions:
o The telephone is so important, every city will need one! (anonymous)
o My personal desire would be to prohibit entirely the use of alternating currents. They are
unnecessary as they are dangerous. (Thomas Edison, 1899)
o I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers. (Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM,
o Computers in the future may only weight 1.5 tons. (Popular Mechanics, 1949)
o There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home. (Ken Olson, president of
DEC, 1977)
o The U.S. will have 220,000 computer by the year 2000. (official forecast by RCA Corporation,
1966 – real number was close to 100 million)
Intelligent Machines and Super-intelligent Humans
• … or the end of the human race??
• We might acquire advanced mental powers through computer-brain implants and interfaces.
• When someone has a stroke, doctors might remove the damaged part of the brain and replace it with a
chip that performs the lost functions, perhaps with a large amount of extra memory or a chip to access
the Web directly – why wait for a stroke?
• MIT robotics researcher, Rodney Brooks, suggests that by 2020, we may have wireless Internet
interfaces that can be implanted in our heads.
• Will such implants make someone less human than a heart transplant or pacemaker does?
• What social problems with intelligence enhancement cause in the next few decades?
• What if we can download our brains into longer-lasting robot bodies – will we still be human??
• Some find these ideas as very possible – and horrifying; some see it as unlikely.
• Some believe that these future technologies will be self-replicating and will be a threat to the human
Those Predictions Above
These predictions, at the time, seemed crazy, unbelievable, and now look at how ridiculous they seem. I
wonder if the above ideas, which now seem crazy and unbelievable, may actually some day come to be???