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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Thinking about the social cost of technology

Natasha Lomas
Tech Crunch
Originally posted September 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Meanwhile, ‘users’ like my mum are left with another cryptic puzzle of unfamiliar pieces to try to slot back together and — they hope — return the tool to the state of utility it was in before everything changed on them again.

These people will increasingly feel left behind and unplugged from a society where technology is playing an ever greater day-to-day role, and also playing an ever greater, yet largely unseen role in shaping day to day society by controlling so many things we see and do. AI is the silent decision maker that really scales.

The frustration and stress caused by complex technologies that can seem unknowable — not to mention the time and mindshare that gets wasted trying to make systems work as people want them to work — doesn’t tend to get talked about in the slick presentations of tech firms with their laser pointers fixed on the future and their intent locked on winning the game of the next big thing.

All too often the fact that human lives are increasingly enmeshed with and dependent on ever more complex, and ever more inscrutable, technologies is considered a good thing. Negatives don’t generally get dwelled on. And for the most part people are expected to move along, or be moved along by the tech.

That’s the price of progress, goes the short sharp shrug. Users are expected to use the tool — and take responsibility for not being confused by the tool.

But what if the user can’t properly use the system because they don’t know how to? Are they at fault? Or is it the designers failing to properly articulate what they’ve built and pushed out at such scale? And failing to layer complexity in a way that does not alienate and exclude?

And what happens when the tool becomes so all consuming of people’s attention and so capable of pushing individual buttons it becomes a mainstream source of public opinion? And does so without showing its workings. Without making it clear it’s actually presenting a filtered, algorithmically controlled view.

There’s no newspaper style masthead or TV news captions to signify the existence of Facebook’s algorithmic editors. But increasingly people are tuning in to social media to consume news.

This signifies a major, major shift.

The article is here.
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