No, technology is not neutral

There is this on-going narrative that technology is a neutral force. This is what you’ve heard on and on again in conferences or tech media. I vehemently dispute that.

But even if we pretend that technology is inherently neutral (which is not), we need to face that tech has facilitated so many terrible outcomes these last ten years. From climate change to the end of privacy as we knew it, saying that “tech is neutral” is a weird form of rampant negationism. In 2020, anyone creating tech that still decides s/he can shed responsibility of the outcomes, should know better.

The most frequent objection I’m dealing with when voicing this is: “How do take responsibility of something that we might have created, but with no idea of how it’s going to be used?” (Cue in the chorus of the open source software community singing their dismay.)

There are three key answers to that:

  1. Maybe you can’t do anything (maybe), but you can’t be complacent anymore about at least short-term obvious consequences. There is a fine line between laziness and being criminally careless. This line has been crossed too many times, we need to do better.
  2. At an age of interconnected global networks, any tech requires some sort of normalized hard kill switch as soon as it gets out of the lab. And yes, I do understand that it’s a tricky question in an era where the US government keeps on asking for backdoors in our phones.
  3. Patent laws should evolve to make sure that in exchange of exploiting rights they are now extended responsibilities as well for both patents holders and licensers. Again, an icky topic while we see China rising as the #1 patent issuer on the planet, but also an even more urgent reason to get there.

I don’t think this narrative of technology as a neutral force can hold anymore. And OK, my ideas are probably not the best, but what is worrying me is that not many of us are having this conversation right now. Stroll, this is one of the key things that the next decade has to deal with.

Tagged technology, Technology is not neutral
Philippe Méda

Philippe Méda

Philippe has been training about 200 startups a year since 2007, consulted for dozens of multinationals on rupture innovation or corporate incubation. He also teaches innovation in key MBA programs in Paris and Shanghai.
Close