What is 'Good' Technology?

One of the questions futurists are often asked is whether technology is a good or a bad thing. Nine times out of ten, the answer will be something along the lines of, "technology is neither good nor bad, it's neutral, like a tool, and you can't pass value judgements on tools." This is usually followed by a metaphor about how knives can be used in anger or for surgery, or about how the power of atomic fission can be harnessed for energy rather than bombs. 

This stuff is hokum. There's no such thing as a neutral technology. That's because technology isn't something that lives outside us. It is us. It's how homo sapiens evolved. We're a species that responds to environmental pressures with new tools, not new bodies. Without technology we are birds without nests, beavers without dams. We cannot live without it. It's an essential part of what makes us human. Technology has always been the key to our survival and prosperity. We create it and it creates us. 

Because mechanistic views of the universe still dominate modern thinking we're conditioned to think of technology (and nature) as separate to us. As a result even though technology is a physical manifestation of the same creative, spiritual, and social forces that create our economic systems, artworks, political arrangements or religious beliefs for some reason we don’t apply the same ethical criteria to it. We say it’s neutral. It’s not.

Technology, and technology companies, often get a free pass as a result. We’re so dazzled by the march of progress that we forget to ask ourselves what this stuff is actually for. That’s why it's important to apply some set of ethical criteria to evaluating new innovations, specific products and/or the companies that create and sell them. We think the most useful one is by Tim 'O Reilly, who says that technology should create more value than it captures.

Another way to think of this is that 'good' technology is the kind that makes goods and services available to people who previously didn’t have access to them. It’s inherently democratic. Good technology is 3D printing prosthetics for war victims in the Sudan. It’s making energy available to people in remote villages in India. It’s about mobile phone services making farming more efficient in Nepal, or apps making it possible to dodge the morality police in Iran.

These kind of technologies hold a special place in our heart here at Future Crunch. They're the ones we report on, the ones we give prominence to. They embody this principle, the idea of creating more value than they capture. And that same principle when applied at your company, or department, or charity or in your communities of interest, provides a powerful starting point for any conversation about which direction you should be headed in the future.