The powerful and often shortsighted ways in which our creations are making our choices for us.
Continuing our partnership with Medium Premium to create series in conjunction with noted authors and journalists, Guidance Systems, by science and tech reporter Jacob Ward, explores the role technology is having in our decision making process. The premise of this series: We’re building technologies and businesses that shape our lives in dramatic and fundamental ways, without throughly analyzing the long-term consequences of these actions. Military robots that have already taken the ethics of war out of human hands. Addiction specialists who are building the neuroscience of habit into apps. Children’s television producers are trying to use their shows to build certain values into their young audience.
Ward refers to these technologies as Guidance Systems, tech that seems to improve our lives by offering us new choices, but also shape or remove our ability to decide things for ourselves. Addictive social media, killer robots, and other systems that can bring out the best and the worst of humanity. Shouldn’t we understand them better?
As 2016 comes to a close, we wanted to share the most popular stories from the year. These stories cover a range of topics, but the overall theme is hard to miss: capitalism is undergoing the greatest shift since the industrial revolution, and it’s time for us all to work together and chart a new course forward. Driverless cars were a big topic, but so was basic income, an increasingly popular proposal to deal with job loss from automation. In politics, both the election of Donald Trump and the popularity of Bernie Sanders demonstrated that the status quo of neoliberalism is falling apart, and that government, business, and the social sector needs to rethink what it means for them as these changes become too real to be ignored.
Without further ado, here are the top stories from NewCo Shift in 2016:
A fully universal, long-term pilot of a basic income has never been rigorously tested, so GiveDirectly, a non-profit, intends to do just that. At minimum, their money will shift the life trajectories of thousands of low-income households. At best, it will change how the world thinks about ending poverty. Read more.
Some days you look behind the headlines and all you see is trouble. Today, two cautionary tales. First: Ten million jobs were created in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015. But nearly all of them, according to a study by Princeton economists, are in the “alternative work” category — part-time, freelance, or contract work rather than steady full-time jobs (Quartz). That’s a boon to people who value gig-economy flexibility but bad news for people who seek or need the security and benefits of more traditional employment. It’s also something lawmakers ought to keep in mind as they prepare to dismantle Obamacare: The need for attractive alternatives to employer-based health insurance is only going to grow.
But new ideas will help us weather this transition, right? Not so fast, says Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal, who argues that we’re in an “innovation slump.” In recent decades, “outside of personal technology, improvements in everyday life have been incremental, not revolutionary,” Ip writes, and that’s why productivity growth has slowed to a crawl. In most areas outside of infotech — the one innovation bright spot — we’ve grown risk-shy, and we’re spending more on undoing damage caused by past innovations (e.g., fossil fuels) than on introducing new ones.
If Ip is right, we should be worried enough to do something about this stasis. He offers a few prescriptions for jumpstarting the flow of new ideas: spend more on R&D, pay more attention to developments in other countries, and loosen the restrictions on new realms like drones and self-driving cars. Also: Maybe figure out how that “alternative work” boom can benefit more of us.