The Sceptical Optimist: Why Technology Isn't the Answer to Everything

The Sceptical Optimist: Why Technology Isn't the Answer to Everything

Nicholas Agar

Language: English

Pages: 222

ISBN: 0198717059

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Sceptical Optimist: Why Technology Isn't the Answer to Everything

Nicholas Agar

Language: English

Pages: 222

ISBN: 0198717059

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The rapid developments in technologies -- especially computing and the advent of many 'smart' devices, as well as rapid and perpetual communication via the Internet -- has led to a frequently voiced view which Nicholas Agar describes as 'radical optimism'. Radical optimists claim that accelerating technical progress will soon end poverty, disease, and ignorance, and improve our happiness and well-being. Agar disputes the claim that technological progress willautomatically produce great improvements in subjective well-being. He argues that radical optimism 'assigns to technological progress an undeserved pre-eminence among all the goals pursued by our civilization'. Instead, Agar uses the most recent psychological studies about human perceptions of well-being to create a realistic model of the impact technology will have. Although he accepts that technological advance does produce benefits, he insists that these are significantly less than those proposed by the radical optimists, and aspects of such progress can also pose a threat to values such as social justice and our relationship with nature, while problems such as poverty cannot be understood intechnological terms. He concludes by arguing that a more realistic assessment of the benefits that technological advance can bring will allow us to better manage its risks in future.

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straightforwardly enhance our happiness. You no longer have to leave your home to be richly socially connected. It seems, however, that human beings are more complex than assumed by a simple model according to which an increase in the number of social connections boosts happiness. Ethan Kross, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, discovered a tendency for Facebook to increase feelings of sadness and loneliness.40 There was an observed positive correlation between feelings of unhappiness

occur quite apart from any human influences. Violent storms predate anthropogenic climate change. For any given storm in the second decade of the third millennium of the Common Era, the human contribution may be quite minor. But a series of small contributions can add up to a significant net effect on the climate considered as a whole. An increase in greenhouse gases may begin to produce effects of such magnitude that they can clearly be distinguished from normal background variation in weather

eating a plate of sashimi. Such feelings would render inexplicable the expressions of contentment on the faces of the diners. We don’t have such direct access to the expressions of suffering or happiness of the people of the rich world of 1800 or of Antonine Rome to correct our beliefs about how good or bad they found their lives. But that doesn’t mean that we are clueless. We can appeal to an evolutionary hypothesis about the psychological and emotional states that produce well-being. Hedonic

enable the domination of a less technologically advanced neighbour. This book has suggested that technological progress is capable of boosting well-being. But the new paradox of progress suggests that the enhancements of well-being from technological progress are less than we tend to think. We should recognize that technological progress is one among many influences on the well-being of a society’s citizens. It deserves no primacy among these influences. Furthermore, technological progress comes

civilization-ending uses of nuclear weapons by keeping them away from individuals and groups disposed to use them—or at least, away from those disposed to make first use of them. Since the potential civilization-ending effects of well-being technologies depend on their universal or wide adoption, we should be able to prevent them by being cautious about their spread. Progress experiments are designed to detect progress traps before we collectively stumble into them. If certain societies adopt new

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