The past half-decade has seen an uptick in thoughtful and influential scholarship on the potential risks — particularly to privacy and civil liberties — of emerging technologies. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find works by several Concurring Opinions bloggers on any list of must-read commentary on the legal, ethical, and political dimensions of new data-driven technologies. Technological progress (or regress, depending on your point of view) has become one of the dominant narratives of our time, and it’s good that critiques of its darker implications have slowly but inexorably entered our political discourse.
Still, there’s a smallish subset of tech commentary and criticism that is, in my view, overwrought. These are critiques that, on their face, seem to have no particular target other than technology tout court. They often include alarmist headlines which are not supported in substance. They cite the marketing claims of technology vendors as statistics. Their true targets are generally people, or political ideologies, rather than technology — a critical fact which often remains buried in the work. Sue Halpern isn’t usually guilty of being a part of this subset (for example, Halpern’s work on the surveillance disclosures has been thoughtful and important) but her latest effort, on the pages of the Review, comes close. (Though, as I’ll explain, she gets a lot right as well).
The headline: How Robots and Algorithms Are Taking Over.
Are robots and algorithms really taking over? Will technological unemployment beget a new era of economic and social disorder? I’m skeptical.