Technology Abuse: I’m Mad as Hell

OK, so now I’m mad. Really mad. Mad as hell. Perhaps you are as well.

My anger was stoked this morning as I read several articles about the latest banking scandal, ie, the fixing of the “LIBOR” inter-bank rates by, apparently, every bank in the Western world. The sociopaths in charge of these fine institutions have been gambling with $800 trillion in securities as if they were playing penny-ante poker with their friends.

That colossal number is roughly 12X the size of the entire global economy; it was achieved through the endless, technology-driven swapping of our money that occurs in today’s 24/7 global markets.

This scandal come far too soon after the near-destruction of the global economy in 2008, brought on by unsufficiently mitigated risk and again, technology-driven markets.

Computing performance is measured in microseconds on Wall Street and London, bringing the speed of light into play and resulting in massive IT infrastructure is set up as closely as possible to trading floors. Trades in the hundreds-of-thousands per second range are now a feature of our modern markets. At this speed, when something goes sideways, it does so in a hurry.

And This, Too
Technology is also the key enabler of that other unfortunate aspect of modern society: endless war and endless domestic spying. At the risk of being trite and late to the party, it seems safe to say that we are finally approaching Orwell’s nightmarish society of 1984.

The latest revelations in the US come from Twitter and Google, who have respectively responded this year to about 800 and 18,000 government requests for private records. Furthermore, US cellphone companies have said they received 1.3 million such requests in 2011.

More malignantly, the Obama Administration has now deemed it OK to target American citizens for lethal drone attacks. A 16-year-old boy was a recent victim. Add to this the reports that law-enforcement officials at all levels in the US want drones of their own for use on American soil, and we seem to be entering a Brave New World of Blade Runner 2.0, where we are the replicants.

So, in review, our latest technology has helped create a world in which the economy is one big, all-hours casino, with security guards and bouncers provided by our government.

What Can We Do?
Einstein and everyone involved in the Manhattan Project knew that the scientific advances of the era were being applied to the worst possible use, the creation of morally indefensible weapons. “If we don’t develop atomic bombs, one of the bad guys will,” ran the mantra of the day.

Since that time, we’ve all been well aware of the dangers our technology poses. Among the more notable recent critiques was offered up by Bill Joy a few years ago in a well-known piece he wrote for Wired magazine.

In the face of such criticism, today’s mantra can be boiled down and conflated to “capitalism good, terrorism bad.” We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

Yet we continue to develop our technology because a.) we believe its potential to do good outweights its potential dark side, and b.) it’s fun. But it seems the time has come for action.
It seems we need to do more than open our windows and put on our best Howard Beale impressions.

So what can we do? What shall we do?

Shall we write our Members of Congress and trust them to create an intelligent, fair-minded solution?

Or how about we create a new Port Huron Statement with these two issues as the foundation? Maybe we can create one massive union and strike until this nonsense ends. Shall we pull a Lysistrata and, er, withhold our services until all technology companies agree not to sell their stuff for nefarious uses?

Will a few like-minded CEOs emerge from the crowd and encourage ethical use of the technology? Is there such a thing as ethical use of the technology?

Perhaps I’m seeing things that aren’t there. Perhaps the global financial system is sound, tarnished only by a few bad apples. Perhaps the modern emphasis on security is making us safer after all. Perhaps the terrorists haven’t really won.

What do you think we should do?

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