Technology Brings Peace, Not Peril

from the history-is-on-the-side-of-innovation dept

The future is positive, a dream. Focus on the future. Use science to stay ahead.
Those words didn't come from a tech-sector legend – not Steve Jobs or Bill Gates – or newcomer like Mark Zuckerberg. That wisdom about nurturing the previously unimaginable and embracing what technology offers came from a visionary of a different sort.

I heard Shimon Peres share this insight during my visit to the Peres Center for Peace in June, just three months before the former Israeli president and prime minister died. He saw innovation and technology as improving the world – a force for good that can break down borders, both national and political.

Peres' vision stands in stark contrast to Lord Jonathan Sacks' dystopian commentary calling computers and radical Islamists the "two dangers" of this century, defeated only by "an insistence on the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life."

On the contrary, I believe innovation and technology will help defeat terrorists and sustain and enhance human life.

Innovation and technology have extended our lives – most children born in the early 1900s didn't live past the age of 50, but the average U.S. lifespan is now almost 79 years. Artificial intelligence is helping doctors make complex diagnoses. 3D printing is producing low-cost prosthetics for children and those who otherwise couldn't afford care. Drones are delivering blood and emergency medicine in developing countries. The rabbi should explain his point that "Every new technology…benefits the few at the cost of the many" to the paraplegic patients learning how to walk thanks to virtual reality.

While Sacks decries the idea of self-driving cars, this innovation can save tens of thousands of lives a year in the U.S. alone. More than 35,000 people died on our roads last year, and the federal government estimates over 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error. Eliminating the great majority of automobile deaths and serious injuries would certainly meet Sacks' goal of preserving "the sanctity of human life."

The rabbi also frets technology will threaten "the dignity of the human person." Apparently, he hasn't considered the dignity self-driving cars will deliver to seniors and persons with disabilities, providing them with previously unimagined freedom and independence. The ability to read road signs or react quickly to traffic will no longer be needed to travel alone by car.

Similarly, Sacks fears doctors will be replaced by robots with artificial intelligence. However, if health care models remain unchanged, the U.S. may face a shortage of 124,000 physicians by 2025. Virtual care solutions – wireless health devices and telemedicine technology – will increasingly allow Americans to see doctors only when necessary.

Tech-enabled remote care also would remove much of the burden of traveling to see a doctor, reducing congestion on roads and easing the strain on caregivers. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, this developing technology is a mitzvah – a gift or miracle, which will provide life and good health. Innovations in healthcare technologies could help resolve an emerging healthcare crisis – they need to be embraced, not feared.

I understand Rabbi Sacks' dual concerns about the growing use of technology threatening both our jobs and our connections with one other. But every major innovation from the wheel to the factory to the car to the internet radically affected how people work. Certain jobs were lost, yes, but new jobs were created.

More, people lived longer as they ate better, stayed healthier and gained greater access to knowledge. Innovation and the myriad benefits it brings allow us to ascend the Maslow hierarchy of needs, from survival with food and shelter to love and satisfying relationships.

The issue remains whether our love affair with technology and fascination with "things" mean we're sacrificing our humanity – choosing the devices in our hands over the people in our midst. Look around a restaurant at dinner and witness seas of quiet people looking at devices. But are devices worse than alcohol, drugs, gambling or anything in excess?

As parents, we should set limits and an example. As adults, we should enjoy the five-sense experience of the people around us, and let these wonders of technology be tools for living rather than our near total life experience.

As President Peres explained to me in June, big data will deliver a new age of being able to predict – and predictability will change and improve the world. I recall him saying, Four thousand years of commandments will keep the morality. Sixty-eight years of Israel will keep innovations coming. His goal for the Center for Peace is to become a center of innovation.

Technology is changing our lives for the better – enhancing our security, removing human error from our roads, reducing trips to the doctor and cutting our workload. In doing so, it improves the sanctity and dignity of human lives. And that is a blessing, not a curse.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro

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