Techno-Utopians, we’ve had a good run! We’ve built dazzling things and disrupted our way into the future. We’ve connected most of the world to the rest of the world. We’ve shrunk computers to the palms of our hands, we can do things that would seem magical to our ancestors. We’ve amazed even ourselves.
But with all the good news, so much bad news! We’ve had massive failures, things didn’t go as planned, bad people ended up winning, good people ended up losing. Just look around: algorithmic bias and discrimination, CRISPR babies, perpetual surveillance, screen-induced depression, the pillaging of our data, and the emigration of trolls from Middle Earth into our daily lives. And, we have to take a hard look at ourselves, Techno Utopians: it turns out we weren’t as good at self-regulation as we’d promised.
Let’s make the human case, and not just the business case, for our technology. Let’s bring new people into the conversation about what we’re building. We have to ask ourselves when we begin, and throughout our journey: How can my invention serve humanity? And what could possibly go wrong?
Today, we’re announcing a new podcast I’m hosting, called Should This Exist? In each episode, I invite an entrepreneur with a radical new technology to set aside their business plan, and think about the human side of their work. We’re starting a new kind of conversation between entrepreneurs and the world. It’s time!
Those of us who build technology—and those of us who seek out its life-changing efficiencies—none of us think of ourselves as the villain. We start out with the best of motives. We believe that when we’re confronted with evil, we’ll behave in the noblest possible manner. We’ll stand up to the bullies and defend the powerless. After all, we know ourselves to be good people. But we descend to hell by small steps, as Baudelaire wrote. We have to answer to our investors, or the market. We end up hating what we loved, and loving what we hated. We end up in a place we didn’t intend.
Techno-utopians, we’re becoming techno-realists. Sadder but wiser. Less exuberant, more questioning. Zebras fix what unicorns break. Less moving fast and breaking things—more being thoughtful and fixing things. We will all be better for it.
So let’s work together to figure this out. Let’s think about what we’re inventing while we’re inventing it. Let’s talk to people who think differently from us. Let’s take the time. We may no longer be techno-utopians, but we can still be techno-optimists. We can rewire things, fix them, put them on the right track. We can use technology to improve, as we had always hoped to.
Just about anything we can imagine can exist. We now need to ask ourselves the question: Should this exist?
We invite you to listen to the trailer and subscribe to Should This Exist? The first episode launches on Feb. 21.