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Unidentified Funny Objects 2. There was a brief moment, in the early s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future. But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs.

Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures — something to predict and make bets on. So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol. The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively. This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities. Technology development became less a story of collective flourishing than personal survival.

Worse, as I learned, to call attention to any of this was to unintentionally cast oneself as an enemy of the market or an anti-technology curmudgeon.


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So instead of considering the practical ethics of impoverishing and exploiting the many in the name of the few, most academics, journalists, and science fiction writers instead considered much more abstract and fanciful conundrums: is it fair for a stock trader to use smart drugs? Should children get implants for foreign languages? Do we want autonomous vehicles to prioritize the lives of pedestrians over those of its passengers?

Should the first Mars colonies be run as democracies? Does changing my DNA undermine my identity? Should robots have rights? Asking these sorts of questions, while philosophically entertaining, is a poor substitute for wrestling with the real moral quandaries associated with unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism. Digital platforms have turned an already exploitative and extractive marketplace think Walmart into an even more dehumanizing successor think Amazon.

Most of us became aware of these downsides in the form of automated jobs, the gig economy, and the demise of local retail. But the more devastating impacts of pedal-to-the-metal digital capitalism fall on the environment and global poor. The manufacture of some of our computers and smartphones still uses networks of slave labor.

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These practices are so deeply entrenched that a company called Fairphone, founded from the ground up to make and market ethical phones, learned it was impossible. Meanwhile, the mining of rare earth metals and disposal of our highly digital technologies destroys human habitats, replacing them with toxic waste dumps, which are then picked over by peasant children and their families, who sell usable materials back to the manufacturers. If anything, the longer we ignore the social, economic, and environmental repercussions, the more of a problem they become. Winston K. Charles L. John Russell Fearn.


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