Does Technology Give us More or Less Control of Our Lives?

When you think about a self-driving car or the thermostat that determines the temperature of your home, does this concept excite you or give you feelings of angst? People of all ages are divided when it comes to the adoption of these technologies. Some people see these aids as a boon to the elderly or a way to save time while others see a loss of what makes life exciting. Many experts see these items as creating a conformist society with ever more entities and governments acquiring data about what we think and do. I wonder about putting important decisions in the hands of a machine, which can err or break down like any device can and eventually does. What do you do if the device you are allowing to make decisions for you does something you don’t like and you wish to override it but can’t? Psychologists view these scenarios as adding stress to everyday life and producing the feeling of loss of control over one’s life, which often leads to extreme anxiety. Just think about how agitating a minor computer glitch is and imagine this being magnified in the case of a self-driving car picking the most economical route to your destination but it taking thirty minutes longer to arrive at your destination. A worst case scenario involves hackers taking over a system or systems and holding whole cities or societies for ransom.

Researchers at Stanford University began a study last December to track the impact of these changes, but the rapidity of the adoption of new technological advances and the time it takes to analyze data makes it difficult to understand the lasting impacts and propose corrective action before the next great thing is upon us. The fear of researchers and privacy specialist is that we are losing our desire to experiment and be creative with the advent of “artificial intelligence” making decisions and watching over us. Do we really know when we use these devices what is being done with the data they store about us and who might have access to it? Do we want to stop thinking and making all of our decisions in life? What happens if you have goals and dreams that don’t conform to the societal norms? Who will determine what is abnormal behavior and how will this be policed in society? These are all important questions that individuals need to think about before ceding power over their lives.

In Finland a study was done which included the use of video cameras and artificial intelligence in the participants homes to study the effects of technology on people’s daily lives. Researchers were surprised at how many of the participants became annoyed and enraged by the constant surveillance and attention. They resorted to hiding their activities, covering the cameras, or turning off the devices if they were able to. These individuals felt that the sanctity and solitude of their homes had been invaded. What level of technology is too much and how much privacy do you wish to abdicate? What happens when we forget how to live on our own? Understanding that cultivating the ability to think and problem solve in children now creates caring, motivated and successful adults in the future makes it hard to cede all of our decisions to technology.

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