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One of the peculiar traits of modern man is his reliance on technology. Moreover, “we envision a future surrounded by technology however we fail to envision the psychological impact [sic]” (Integer post 1).
Indeed, are current developments suggestive of a need to step back and re-evaluate our relationship with technology? In this essay, I will demonstrate the influence of technology in our lives first by looking at the current phenomenon of phone addiction and proceed to show its continued significance in the developing field of humanoid robotics.
In the first section, I explore how phones have developed from simple communication devices to sophisticated gadgets that not only serve a basic human need, but also tools of profound influence to human behaviour; so much so that “they are actually beginning to interfere in the lives of users who don’t know when to turn them off” (qtd. in Birdwell par. 2).
In the second part, I lay forth an extensive examination of how robotic science, and artificial intelligence by extension, has developed to the present day. Again, I will show how research in robotic science points to an ever increasing importance of technology in human life. In the article Humanoid Robotics, Wadsworth and Few (par. 9) points out that “problems that arise from new technologies are often met with more complex and daring technologies”, accurately encapsulating the central concern in this paper.
Cell phones and human behaviour
Cell phone use seems to be a very important part of our lives. April Birdwell, in the article ‘Addicted to Cell phones?’ argues that cell phones extend beyond their use as communication devices. It’s noted that for most people, switching off the phone for even a short period of time, is enough to cause anxiety (Birdwell par. 1). This phenomenon, with varying severity in different people, has caused experts to worry, citing withdrawal symptoms similar to those found among addicts. Moreover, it appears that cell phone addiction is on the rise.
In findings by a Japanese study, it was noted that children who had cell phones often did not make “friends with their less tech-savvy peers…” (qtd. in Birdwell par. 9). A caveat should be issued however. Bad cell phone habits may not necessarily point to an addiction (Birdwell par. 11). Though true, this is challenged by the fact that “…as with traditional addictions, excessive cell phone use is associated with certain hallmark patterns of [addictive] behaviour…” (qtd. in Birdwell par. 13).
Addictive tendencies seems to parallel our mental orientation however (Spiegel par. 9). Interestingly, Spiegel (par 11) ventures the thought that perhaps we are slowly turning to ‘cyborgs’ (part human part computer). Be that as it may, there is also the important suggestion that we must consider the psychological implications of technology to human behaviour (Spiegel par. 17).
Robotic Technology: The search for a ‘human’ robot
Are robots, especially as they are envisioned, necessary in a planet of around 8 billion human beings? Wadsworth and Few (par. 1), in their ‘Humanoid Robotics’, think they are not. This notwithstanding, they draw a parallel with the development of the internet to conclude that ‘social’ robotic technology will continue to evolve, despite the irony of a ballooning human population (Wadsworth and Few par. 4).
As illustrated in robotic technology, current research seeks to upgrade robots to have emotive qualities. The idea is to develop robots with which human beings are able to form relationships. A striking attempt in this direction is the Geminoid HI-1, developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro at ATR Intelligent Robotics and Communication Laboratories in Japan. Ishiguro’s ‘twin’, Geminoid HI-1 is able to elicit empathetic reaction from people.
Foreseeing such developments, Ruz Kurtwell, in his 2005 book ‘The Singularity is Near’, predicted that “extending our intelligence by reverse engineering it, modelling it, simulating it…and modifying and extending it is the next step in [human] evolution” (qtd. in Bond par. 4). Quite clearly, robotic technology seems headed towards creating efficient robots with human-like qualities (qtd. in Bond par. 12).
Conclusion: Technology, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
These two apparently unrelated illustrations point to one undeniable fact: technology is integral to human society. This is perhaps not difficult to understand if the writings of Norbert Weiner, father of computer technology, are put into perspective. Weiner, a scholar during the mid 40’s, put forward a philosophical thesis, cybernetics (from Greek the word for the pilot of a ship), that would lay the groundwork for technological development (Bynum par.10).
Though the ‘cybernetic’ view of human nature has been established, a corresponding and rigorous ethical tradition, establishing our relation to technological output is yet to take root. The question thus becomes, is technology good or bad? Is it both? How can we harness the good in technology to counter the bad?
These questions highlight the complexity of technological development and the need to define ethical parameters that will guide our use and development of technology. Indeed, it is high time we re-evaluated our relationship with technology.
Birdwell, April Frawley. Addicted to Phones? 2007. Web.
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Bond, Michael. Smart Robots. Engineering and Technology Magazine. 4.9 (2009): n.pag. The Institute of Engineering and Technology. Web.
Bynum, Terrell. Computer and Information Ethics. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. 2011. Stanford.edu. Web.
Integer. “Re: Effects of Technology and media on our society” Philosophy Forums. 2012. Web.
Spiegel, Jeremy. Hanging Up On Cell Phone Addiction. 2012. Web.
Wadsworth, Derek and Few, Doug. Humanoid Robotics: Ethical Considerations. Web.