Try, try again

For us to move forward at all, we need to think about technology and society. Not just philosophers, not just computer scientists, but all of us. Technology affects everyone on this planet, and looking the other way won’t make things better.

I’ve heard the saying “technologically, man is a giant; morally he is a dwarf” widely quoted in an unnecessarily alarmist sense, implying that technological advancement is hubris. So it may be, but it is an extension of who we are. Man is a tinkering ape and our creations are a legacy of that. We make things, and some of them turn out to be useful.

So we build these amazing careers, we strive for the best in ourselves, we strive to achieve and acquire. We often say “giving back (to the community).” Giving back means that you first have to take. It sounds like a general who takes the lion’s share of the spoils, then gives the leftovers to his soldiers. It is inherently selfish.

Why not build altruism into the pursuit itself? Why not have a career which, at no outrageous cost to you, does more than fill your pockets? I think this is where we often go wrong. I do this; I imagine that I’ll have this unbelievably rich and comfortable future, where any financial care is long forgotten. And then I have these moments of clarity, when I realise that it will still be me, only with more zeroes at the end of my balance. This changes nothing.

Your personal work, your career choice — it doesn’t have to be selfish, and it doesn’t have to be completely selfless. You can profit and not do so off someone else’s back. You and your biggest rival can both win. You can be good and not be a sucker. This may strike some as too hopeful, but this is how we need to start thinking about the future if our children are to live a good life.

We need to champion technological and social progress side-by-side, as two inseparable sides of the same problem. We need not think of the mistakes we made so far, only about where to go from here. Think about how both you and others can benefit from an event, without causing harm. Then scale up.

We talk about a lot of things. These days, politics, mostly. And TV shows. Let’s find time to have this conversation as well: what is mankind’s future?