Technical solutions do not exist

Life in the Western world in the 21st century seems pretty sweet. Sometimes I sit in my kitchen and marvel at the robots doing work that my great grandmother literally spent her entire life doing. The dishwasher is on; the washing machine is doing its thing; bish-bash-bosh and I wake up to the smell of fresh coffee and a loaf cooked overnight.

I go to my desk. My emails have been filed. I gesture at my screen and the day’s agenda prints out. I check the news from journalists in three different time zones.

Is that it then? Have we solved *life*? Is it just a matter of clicking some buttons, and it’s all done?

It’s tempting to think that way. A hundred years ago I had a 1/6 chance of dying from smallpox. The vaccination programme was so successful, that I didn’t even need it — the disease had been all but eradicated by the time I was born.

But consider this: it’s a conundrum I have pondered for the last ten years. A man has three sons. One of his sons is a wealthy landowner, one of his sons is a poor labourer, and the third son has shown no signs of ambition nor work ethic. The man is writing his will. What is the fairest way to allocate the inheritance? To give most of it to the son who shows the most promising signs of investing wisely and growing the sum? To give most of it to the son who is not doing so well financially and is the most in need? Or to split it equally between them all on the basis they are all three his treasured offspring?

No technical solution exists. No algorithm will solve this for you. Did your mind jump to ‘societal benefits’? If the successful son grows the pie and shares the wealth, this will have the largest benefits? That argument brings a silent, invisible moral analysis along with it. The analysis that says: more is better. It avoids a nuanced analysis of the effect this would have on the other brothers, how they might feel about their father overlooking them when it came to their futures.

This is the silent, invisible moral analysis that we find all over. More is better. The individual doesn’t count. There is no such thing as society. Google will know the answer.

Keep thinking.