Long ago, the internet gave us a sense of freedom. However, by 2023, we must confront the ethical dilemmas that it created.
The arrival of widespread internet access was eagerly awaited by the public. This technology offered a level of connectivity and communication that was previously unseen, and many believed it could bring a sense of increased freedom. The potential of the internet was seen as a beacon of hope.
A decade ago, there was optimism that the internet would make accessing information more equitable for everyone. Looking back, we feel a tinge of embarrassment for how innocent we were in the nascent stages of the internet. Fast forward to 2023 and the internet is now a battleground where powerful groups contend for or against net neutrality, the propagation of fake news, online bullying, and significant data privacy concerns. This demonstrates the great strides we have made since the early days of the internet, where our primary objective was to foster collaboration across the globe and facilitate two-way communication.
Some argue that issues like cyberbullying are a consequence of free speech and should be respected, regardless of personal stance. However, in a world where technology has become increasingly prominent in our lives, we need to seriously consider the ethical implications of this phenomenon. While we must protect the right to freedom of expression, it is vital to acknowledge the potential harm that can result from malicious behaviour on the internet.
It is imperative that we initiate a conversation about the influence that technology has had on our existence. As freedom is a fundamental aspect of modern society, this discussion is especially relevant.
Where Can Freedom Really be Found?
Without aid from a search engine, it is likely that most individuals would say freedom means the absence of any constraints from society or government that might hinder individual self-expression. Despite being a widely accepted notion, in actuality, unbridled freedom is unattainable and does not exist.
The notion of a world where we are free to act without consequences may be alluring, but it disregards the intricate nature of our reality. Living in a society with others who are entitled to the same rights as us necessitates contact. In the absence of rules and regulations to regulate our behaviour, individuals could commit acts that infringe on the rights of others, such as theft, verbal abuse, and other violations, without facing any consequences. This could lead to a rapid and widespread breakdown of order.
Freedom, much like other abstract concepts, is intricate and challenging to grasp.
To ensure that freedom is a positive force for all, it is crucial to establish a set of rules to follow. Throughout history, various groups have come together in the pursuit of self-determination. While there is no universally accepted definition of freedom, there is an opportunity to discuss the topic in a courteous and respectful manner, subject to certain terms.
Consequently, it is crucial to acknowledge the need for certain limitations to ensure the sustainability of freedom. We understand the importance of criminal laws and the corresponding penalties they impose. By refraining from committing acts of theft, for instance, we are relinquishing some individual autonomy to preserve a different form of autonomy that we see as necessary to attain a greater goal.
With a clearer comprehension of the meaning of freedom, we can explore how technology influences and transforms this idea.
Burdened by the Precipice
Ever since it first premiered in 2011, the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror has garnered a substantial and loyal following, especially among younger audiences. What accounts for this? The series offered a glimpse into the darker aspects of technology through fictional storylines. Black Mirror adhered to the customary science fiction customs by using technological breakthroughs as a foundation for exploring ethical and philosophical challenges in our present-day world.
The series resonated with audiences because it prompted them to ponder the plausibility of the scenarios depicted in the show eventually unfolding in real life. One episode that stands out in this regard is ‘Nosedive’, which portrayed a world where character relationships were subject to a scoring system, with higher scores leading to elevated social status.
It is common to experience a degree of unease when contemplating the reports regarding the employment of credit ratings in China; this unease may be particularly strong if the accounts appear improbable. Nonetheless, it is vital to avoid dismissing such enquiry as a consequence of having a negative attitude towards technological progress. Doing so would be unwise and detrimental in the long-term. Ultimately, the question remains: is this the type of world we desire to reside in?
There is no denying that we are presently undergoing an expedited pace of technological progress. Technology seems to be employed to resolve every issue and fulfil every requirement. Nevertheless, it is justifiable to scrutinize if this is the appropriate trajectory for us to pursue.
The crux of the matter is centred around data. Presently, we have an unparalleled volume of information readily available to us. Through Artificial Intelligence (AI), we can scrutinize these extensive databases for pertinent data. If you come across any article associated with AI, you will probably discover that it is primarily utilized to support individuals in making well-informed decisions.
One may ponder who bears the responsibility of making these decisions and what repercussions they have on our everyday lives. Additionally, it is disconcerting to contemplate the prospect of Artificial Intelligence (AI) coaxing us to pursue a preconceived route, by assigning a score to each individual in China based on an undisclosed algorithm.
Terminate the Horrors of 1984
George Orwell’s 1984 is extensively recognised as one of the best science fiction novels to date, due to its believability as a dystopian prospect. If you have not yet delved into the story, it portrays a governing party in a super state that utilises pervasive surveillance to quash any thought or action that deviates from official policy. The news is manipulated to constantly revise history and regulate the populace’s perception.
It is becoming progressively prevalent for individuals to be deceived by fabricated information, and it is not hard to grasp why one may perceive our contemporary reality to resemble the universe portrayed in George Orwell’s seminal book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. If this appears daunting, it is worthwhile to pause and contemplate the circumstances.
It may seem effortless to believe that you possess autonomy in deciding what you peruse online, however, as additional data is obtained from us (which, it is crucial to recollect, we handed over willingly without much deliberation), services can furnish a tailored encounter that seems to have been customised specially for us. Although this may resemble a favourable outcome externally, there is a drawback to this personalisation: it can constrict your perspectives by surrounding you with individuals who echo your beliefs.
The concept of internet filter bubbles, which operate continuously to present content that aligns with our views while concealing any material that may be perceived as contentious or factually inaccurate, has been widely deliberated since Eli Pariser’s influential Ted Talk in 2023. These algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated, furnishing us solely with material that corresponds with our opinions, due to the growing prevalence of data and artificial intelligence solutions.
There is no denying that the use of personal data and the capacity of specific organisations to manage the dissemination of information to the public has implications for our freedom. Without the guarantee of complete liberty to access all the accessible alternatives, it is arduous to argue that we can uphold a sense of authentic independence. It is evident that this type of pressure detracts from our self-governance and restricts our capability to formulate our own judgements. Hence, if we are to safeguard that everyone can relish an unrestricted internet, we must take measures to ensure that all options are laid out to the public.
In spite of the absence of a Big Brother persistently monitoring our actions as portrayed in George Orwell’s vision of the future, it is impossible to deny that our world is starting to imitate the concepts he presented. We currently carry gadgets that routinely record our everyday activities, from the things we read and watch to our whereabouts and who we communicate with. This data is obtainable to both commercial enterprises and, according to Edward Snowden, even governments, implying that they can garner a deeper awareness into our lives than we can ourselves. Subsequently, this information is employed to make ‘informed decisions’ on our behalf.
There Is Still an Opportunity to Act
It is indubitable that the tone of this essay thus far has been somewhat melancholic. Nevertheless, we must endeavour to ensure that this is not the inference that is deduced. It is factual that the hurdles we confront with regards to the escalating power of technology are noteworthy; nonetheless, it is crucial that we can manage the expansion of these technologies to maintain authority. With Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the Internet of Things gaining more traction in the approaching years, it is vital that we remain vigilant in our endeavours to prevent these remarkable tools from being misused.
Despite the fact that technology has the potential to be advanced, we can still act now to guarantee that its potential does not result in a negative consequence. Several individuals have formerly been of the notion that any technology should be examined, however, this does not have to be the only alternative. If technology can aid in resolving minor predicaments, we need not obstruct its progress. It is imperative that we partake in a significant conversation about these advancements, for our own well-being and for the future of humanity.
It is apparent that technological advancement has the capacity to enhance our livelihood, but it is imperative that we take the time to meticulously evaluate both the probable advantages and disadvantages of such progress. Although I am far from being a luddite, having dedicated much of the past decade in the digital sphere, I am also cognizant that we frequently fall into the pattern of not anticipating the repercussions of our actions and instead responding to whatever is positioned in front of us in the moment.
It is challenging to predict what the future holds due to the ever-expanding multitude of developing technologies. Nonetheless, by profoundly scrutinising the evolution of the internet since its public inception, we can acquire some knowledge of what may ensue. Firstly, the internet has taught us that the universe (and its technology) scarcely follows the projected path. There is no avoiding the perpetual transformations and alterations that life entails.
When contemplating the repercussions of a world where technology reigns supreme, it is clear that we must not submit to an established destiny dictated by technocrats, corporations, or artificial intelligence. Instead, we must uphold our entitlement to voice our own opinions and act independently. Consequently, liberty in a technology-dependent universe can be perceived as the capacity to employ our own discernment and make our own unaffiliated decisions. This is unquestionably a crucial and significant issue.