Techno-Solutionism: Tech can't fix everything
Techno-solutionism: Beliefs, Consequences & Society
Updated: April 27, 2023
A few weeks ago, I first became aware of Techno-solutionism from my amazing postdoc fellow, Dr. Castro. The ideology immediately caught my attention and I looked it up, studied the topic, and here I share the concept for anyone interested. Think of this article as a quick one-pager intro to the topic.
Techno-solutionism is the belief that any problem can be solved with technology. This comes from the idea that as time progresses, all problems of society will eventually be solved via technology (Morozov, 2013).
People who are techno-solutionists tend to believe that technology will make people's lives better in the long run. It is a type of ideology where technological innovation is seen as the single key solution to all social, economic and environmental issues. Often seen as a quick fix to complex social issues, techno-solutionism fails to take into account the complexity of many of these issues and the potential for unintended consequences.
This ideology has inspired many companies to create products, without thinking about ethical consequences or dangers. We can see this concept in many different areas such as AI, bio-robots, blockchain tech and self-driving cars.
One example is Facebook. The original intention of Zuckerburg was to create a social network for people to stay in touch with their family and friends, but Zuck never thought about the long-term consequences such as depression and dopamine addiction. In other words, social technology tools such as Facebook may appear as a solution, but may not truly consider the human side of things. When dopamine capitalism gives you fast money, nobody cares about the long-term consequences it brings to human behavior and suffering. Nobody. Here is another example to let it settle in our minds for a long time. There are companies out there that use machine learning to reduce toxicity online (such as PerspectiveAI). You can use it to bring harassers to justice, but what next? Harassers will eventually become aware of the filtering system and move their toxic, science-denying activities to other cloud providers that do not filter toxicity. This is a social problem that cannot be fixed with technology. Some may even use this concept as an excuse to shift responsibility for solving problems away from governments and other institutions and onto the individual.
But I believe techno-solutionism leads to a lack of understanding of the root causes of problems, which will in turn lead to a focus on treating symptoms instead of addressing the underlying issues. Another big example is poverty. Technology may be able to provide a momentary fix, such as providing food for those in need, but it cannot solve the root problem of poverty. This is because poverty is a complex issue with multiple causes, such as a lack of access to education, employment opportunities, and adequate health care. Technology cannot provide these necessities or fix the systemic issues that create poverty.
Morozov, E. (2013). To save everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism. Public Affairs.
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