On technology optimism and a grim outlook for 2015

Optimism abounds.
Optimism abounds.
Image: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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It’s that time when media outlets publish their predictions for the year to come, and it’s looking like a grim year on many fronts. Oil prices will keep falling and bring turmoil to many places—one of them being Russia, which could respond by becoming even more belligerent. The euro will slide—and that’s only if the rise of leftist parties like Greece’s Syriza don’t lead to its breakup altogether. China’s economy is slowing again. Cybercrime (see Sony and a slew of other big corporations) has become seriously scary. So has the melting of the ice sheets. And the Middle East… well, we don’t need to tell you.

When journalists make tech predictions, on the other hand, they tend to be sunny: all the cool gadgets we’ll have, all the wonderful mysteries science will uncover. Seemingly nobody writing about how 2015 will be the year of wearables is discussing what will happen if hackers, having got bored with Sony, take control of your Apple Watch or dump the data from everyone’s personal medical monitor into a huge public file on the internet.

Why this optimism? After all, we’re not naïve; we know that the same social media that helped kick off the Arab Spring also gave governments the means of mass surveillance, and we’re starting to understand that the technology that gives you cheap services at your beck and call relies on a huge precarious labor force. Not only is technology unevenly distributed, to slightly misquote William Gibson; inevitably, its benefits are too. Perhaps it’s just that in a world with such seemingly intractable problems, we want to leave room—briefly—for a little hope that sheer ingenuity can fix them.

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