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The Role Of Technology Essay, Research Paper

Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all.

- John F. Kennedy

Speech, May 21, 1963

As we look back in retrospect, civilization has evolved greatly from generation to generation. Our advancement has been solely dependent on one factor, the human mind. The human mind has brought us from the bondages of Neanderthal era to today s modern age. It has brought us numerous of conveniences that are as simple as a hammer to as sophisticated as the personal computer. These creations have multiplied exponentially and have been the crutch for our society. The anxiety of Y2k exemplifies the magnitude in which we rely on these machines we have created. The dilemma in which the development of technology brings is a simple question: To what extent should these machines govern our lives? This medium is the crucial answer to future survival of our existence.

If we look back to a little over two centuries ago in our world, technology was not as prominent as it is now. A day in which the horse cart broke did not greatly affect daily life for people in that time period. On the other hand, imagine a day when electricity stops. Airports would be shut down, communication failures, business loss, and etc. Recently an earthquake hit the nation of Taiwan, where a majority of the semiconductor industry is located. During the earthquake with a Richter scale of 7.4, many of the factories halted production on computer chips. In the one of two days the plants were shut down, stocks relating to the computer industry plummeted. Dell Computer announced that its third quarter earnings would be lower than expectations, Gateway shares dropped, and the damage went down the chain to companies that were related to the computer industry. If the hysteria over Y2k is accurate, we will see in first hand, the grasp in which technology has on our society. I have observed that a popular plot in sci-fi novels is the notion that someday in the future, computers will govern our lives and we will become slaves to them. The Terminator movie series is a classic example that uses this plot. One must ask himself if this fiction has become a reality for humans. Weapons of mass destruction were a constant fear for all citizens during the Cold War and are still a threat to us. Reading about the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings, the recent Xerox shootings, and so forth makes me wonder if we have become slaves to our creations.

To find the medium in which we can balance technology with our lives, we must understand the differences and parallels that computers share with us. An apparent disparity is that computers/machines do not posses the reason and intuition that a human brain contains. Descartes foresaw this distinction and reasons as follows:

For whereas reason is a univeral instrument which can be used in all kinds of situations, these organs [of animals, like mechanisms in general] need some particular disposition for each particular action; hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all contingencies of life in the way in which our reasons makes us act. (Descartes 1637, p.140)

Descartes continues, even though such machines might do [or say] some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they were acting not through understanding but only from the disposition of their organs . There is a common misconception that computers are perfect in their respective functions and that they are the solution to the erroneous human being. Thus, we trust it with all of our daily duties. Many continue to believe that since computers appear to be perfect and that we trust it with all our duties, ultimately computers are smarter than humans and someday may help us accomplish all of our tasks. We have been fascinated by the capabilities of the new chess champion , Artificial Intelligence. The fact of the matter is that Artificial Intelligence can be flawed just like humans can be. The Chinese Room Argument proposed by John Searle gives us a glimpse to the abilities of AI. The experiment requires placing person in a room with a bunch of Chinese writings. Based on the batches of instruction they give you are required to decipher the Chinese characters. This correlation is obviously impossible to most beings and one of Searle s conclusions is:

If he doesn t understand then there is no way the system could understand because the system is just part of him.

Behind every computer system or software lays a program or code that was created by a human being. Thus if you believe that humans are erroneous, then the programs created would be also flawed sharing a parallel between machines and humans.

In order to determine whether to select the results from the computer or the top-notch surgeon as given in the scenario, the benefits and disadvantages of computers must be underlined first. In the paragraphs above, I have tried to find evidence to disprove the notion that computers/machines are flawless. However, computers can become a great complement to our daily tasks. The dilemma we face is how much or how little we should rely on technology before it controls us. The medium is simple; mix the best of what humans may offer such as the flexibility of our minds with the increased accuracy and efficiency of the computer. In this given scenario, the computer that predicts the possibilities of a heart attack should be viewed as a second opinion. Each heart attack case varies from patient to patient, computers may be accurate most of the time but on the rare occasions it may also be wrong. Only a doctor would be able to take in account special conditions such as a rare heart condition or a phenomenon that was never discovered. The computer on the other hand would either give a false output or syntax error. With the benefits of a doctor and the computer as a second opinion, the patient would then be able to make an informed decision. However, if we become wooed by the computer s ability to make these predictions and hope to replace doctors someday with these devices, we then cross the thin red line from using it as a tool to relying on it. Advancements in the medical field have made medicine practice today, more efficient and accurate. Inventions such as the X-ray have become tools or nurses for doctors. Yet with these conveniences, most doctors do not rely solely on generated data but also their experience and knowledge learnt creating a balance between man and technology.

Most opposition on this matter will argue on the merit of a few points. First and foremost, cost efficiency; if we are able to convert computers into doctors someday imagine the decreased cost of medical advice. There would be an obvious demand for these devices and thus driving down the prices for medical attention. People from all financial backgrounds would finally be able to afford some sort of medical advice since surgery and advice nowadays have become exorbitant in their costs. Secondly, this new form of medicine is time efficient as well. Instead of jumping from doctor to doctor for secondary opinion, one computer will generate the same result as the other devices. Thirdly, the computer may be able to give a more accurate diagnosis a single doctor today without the second opinions. However, there are many ethical issues that are involved in this situation. Computers will not be able to detect any new forms of diseases or rare conditions thus sacrificing many lives.

My approach to this dilemma from the article in the New Yorker is straightforward. I would take into consideration what the doctor informs me of and also the statistical data compiled by the computer. However, I would not rely solely on the computer but also second opinions from other cardiologists besides the primary one. Statistically wise, if I sought out three doctors and all three said I was fine and healthy. I would take their word for it and overriding the result generated by the computer. However, if the other two doctors agreed with the computer my obvious choice would be to understand that a heart attack might occur. The most vital element I believe in this dilemma is not to rely on technology itself. The mind is far more complex than computer chips that were made by humans. If the gift of our mind were compromised, then they would be seemingly no need for them.

Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains. Eric Hoffer

Man must understand its role with technology before any continual progression or else the sci-fi books we read may someday become a reality.

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