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What Tech Can’t Fix

Short thesis

Technological process is often sold as a shortcut to social stability, full employement and an improved public infrastructure. But is it really? Technology is not and cannot be a panacea for problems that societies, communities and their leaders choose not to fix.

Description

In it's 2019 World Development Report "The Future of Work", the World Bank echoes the perhaps overly optimistic line that technology companies themselves put forward: that technology "brings opportunity, paving the new way to create jobs, increase productivity, and deliver effective public services". Those who build the platforms that increasingly control the intricacies of our daily lives want us to believe that all technological progress is good - from social media platforms to voice activated smart speakers; from state-built panopticons that siphon terabytes of citizen data, to smartphones and laptops that manage our bank accounts and pay our bills while listening in to our personal conversations even when we'd rather they didn't. But their opponents are increasingly raising their voices - technology is not and cannot be a panacea for problems that societies, communities and their leaders choose not to fix. Technology has its limits and challenges defined primarily by the contours of the community in which the technology is deployed.

Primarily drawing from the Kenyan experience, this talk will focus on these limits - on what technology can't fix. It will discuss three general issues: that technology cannot unite a society that is determined to remain divided; technology cannot uncorrupt a system that power would rather keep corrupt for profit; and technology cannot build movements or fix social problems without offline momentum. These points may seem banal, but it is increasingly important to emphasise them, particularly as tech-optimism increasingly outweighs founded skepticism in key sectors like development and humanitarianism. This talk will urge an honest and earnest reflections on some of the key limits of technology and bring us back to a more meaningful medium so we can focus energies on what technology can fix.