The biggest volcano eruption ever recorded, in 1815 at Mount Tambora, not only led to snow in New York during the summer of that year, but also to the invention of the bicycle. Similarly, the recent COVID-19 pandemic not only brought the realization how fragile the framework of our lives is but has already led to superfast technological evolution in education, in healthcare, or in many other industries – and we believe the majority of new inventions is yet to come. Fast and furious as the previous ones did. Or even faster.
But while science and technology aims to make our everyday lives more comfortable, our work more efficient, our circumstances more predictable, we ask you to raise your head from the present moment and look around: where are we heading? What will humans become living an ever more comfortable, ever more efficient, and ever more predictable life? Or should we rather ask what remains?
What will remain from our humanity when we enter the era of technological and scientific advancements, such as artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, robot workers, privacy-eroding social media, electronic surveillance systems, genetic engineering, or artificial meat? What will remain from nature with rising carbon emission rates, shrinking biodiversity, ever-increasing consumption, and the mountains of trash?
Here, at Contemplate, we aim to ask the tough questions. In line with Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, who says that the three biggest questions for the 21st -century man are the fate of nuclear energy, the issue of climate change, and that of technological disruption, we want to ask what the Aristotelian ‘good life’ means in the face of fast technological advancement and environmental decline. What are the ethical questions to deal with and what could be their impact on individuals and communities alike? How can we emerge from the shortsightedness of profit-driven economies and focus on the long term? How can we prepare for the years to come?
Michael Sandel, in his book ‘The Case against Perfection’, says that every technology brings a promise and a predicament. Not only does a given technology offer a way to solve an issue, it also throws individuals and communities into (often previously unforeseen) situations with ethical ramifications to handle. You might say that predicting the future would require prophets, oracles, or just good enough data – but that is not what we propose. Instead of looking into crystal balls, we recommend looking into foreseeable risks and justifiable concerns to try to mitigate them before it becomes too late.
That is the reason why we not only want to draw attention to the ethical, environmental, and social impact of new technologies, but we also want to create a space where the most accomplished social scientists, artists, philosophers would have the chance to give advice to technology companies on what to consider if they want to build their products and services as sustainable and future-proof as possible. Future-proof meaning a safe operating space where the sustenance of a meaningful life and the potentials of technology match fruitfully in the long run. That means technologies with mitigable risks, with benefits shared by many, product costs internalized and a sustained dialogue on the meaning, the direction and the uses of technological objects.
We all share the responsibility to only let technology alter the ways of humans and the surface of the Earth to such an extent to allow for the next generations to have the chance to live and form their own definition of the ‘good life’. To not be so technologically determined that we don’t have the chance to debate what the ‘good life’ means.
For that to happen, we need to think in less market-driven and more human terms.
We need to humanize technology. Will you be joining us?