#36: There’s a monster under my bed!

1-2-3 Tech Miscellany

Hi, I’m Scott Bryan and you’ve (most likely) signed up for 1-2-3 Tech Miscellany, a weekly newsletter about ethics in tech.

Each week, I’ll introduce you to 1 ethical dilemma, 2 good news stories and 3 random quotes, photos or other oddities.

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Reading time: 3 minutes

Part 1 - Ethical Dilemma

If I Think It Will It Come?

"There’s a monster under my bed!” 

No matter what I say, I can't convince my petrified son otherwise. So, I turn to a well-worn path to a sound sleep:

  1. Leave on the landing light.

  2. Make sure the bedroom door is open.

  3. Sit by the bed until the poor waif's asleep.

If I was a sociologist however, I might skip the mollycoddling.

I’d pop my son on my knee, look him straight in the glassy eye, and tell him, “Son, your terror is a classic example of Thomas Theorem."

Thomas Theorem says, the objective reality of a situation matters not a jot, if you believe something else. The consequences are real nonetheless.

Another example is the panic buying of toilet paper, witnessed (in Ireland at least) after the pandemic lockdown announcement. Even though there was no shortage of supply, people believed the rumour to the contrary. This led to an actual shortage in bog roll, and arguably, created a domino effect with other essential goods being unnecessarily hoarded too.

Anyone for overpriced flour or hand-sanitiser?

A Safe Space

Whether it’s monsters, a toilet roll shortage or something else, if you believe a situation to be real, it is real in its consequences. End of story.

But does the Thomas Theorem apply to the dystopian tales we tell ourselves about the future of artificial intelligence too?

Science fiction continues to serve as a cautionary tale of the kind for worlds we’d rather not have. And AI conversations in the media obsess about the gloomy future of work.

These platforms are our safe spaces. They’re where we work through fears about things that scare the crap out of us.

But, like a bad smell that lingers too long, you get used to it. It becomes the default way of thinking (or smelling!). And, since we tend to follow the norms and defaults set by the cultural narratives we live within, this makes it difficult to imagine our world in other ways.

But there are always other ways — better ways. 

Field of Dreams

When it comes to emerging technologies, we need to start celebrating different kinds of stories of what might be possible. Otherwise, our fears about AI, could prove the logical conclusion to recurring thoughts.

For starters, we must step away from the language of “optimising.” We should stop constantly thinking about a tech-driven world in terms of productivities and efficiencies.

What about celebrating other things technology could excel at? Instead of the future of work, what about the future of art and creativity? Instead of measuring everything based on it's monetary value, what about measuring everything based on civil and civic engagement instead?

Let's channel our inner Kevin Costner and chant, "If you think it, they will come."***

Ok, let's not. But, the point still stands.

If the future of our darkest imagination is the future we deserve, let's make sure, the brightest, most human-centric path, is the future we get.

*** Yeah I know, in the film, they actually say “If you build it they will come.”


Part 2 - Good News Stories

Calling All Freetarians

Falling Fruit is a worldwide collaboration among foragers.

The app contains a map cataloguing 1.5 million locations across the planet, where food is growing wild and crying out to be picked.

From berry bushes in a public park, to herbs lining a suburban street, Falling Fruit wants to create “intimate connections between people, food and the natural organisms growing in our neighbourhood.”

Read more on fallingfruit.org

Snot Bot

Scientists have developed an ingenious way to gather biological samples from whales.

Previously, they’d fire a crossbow to extract a bit of flesh. Today, thanks to the Snotbot, it's much less invasive.

The SnotBot is basically a consumer drone with petri dishes stuck on it. It hovers over a whale’s blow hole where, with each exhalation, it collects a wealth of information about the health of whales.

All in all, it helps conservation efforts, while not disturbing the whales.

Read more on fallingfruit.org

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Part 3 - Quotes, Tweets And Other Oddities

  1. Remember last week’s Bitcoin scam where major Twitter accounts were hacked? I knew it was a scam when I saw this:

  1. Okay, maybe technology is good sometimes:


Thanks for reading. Until next week.

Scott