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The Lacklusterness of SpaceX’s May launch.

I remember scrolling through Twitter as SpaceX was on the verge of history. They would soon be the first private company to launch NASA astronauts into space. A massive step towards making space exploration more accessible to the masses.

I should have been excited. I wasn’t. I mean it hadn’t been because Musk had shown himself an utter idiot on matters of the pandemic. There was definitely that. But it had far more to do with the pandemic; not only the lives lost but far more obviously the sort of socio-political changes going on at the time.

The protests had just gained steam following the death of George Floyd. Hong Kong was knowingly fighting for what could have been their last true moment of freedom and democracy.

The US had proven itself incompetent at handling the pandemic, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, a sum that has grown exponentially since then. Viktor Orban was seizing Hungary by making use of the pandemic to expand his powers.

It had dawned on me a while ago that technology was increasingly distant from actually helping us solve real social problems. But the truth was that we solve social problems, tech merely makes it easier to do so.

I was never a techno-chauvinist but I had great faith in technology. Now, I’m sort of ambivalent about such changes.

I’m definitely not a techno-pessimist. But the optimism surely is fading.

What good is technology if we cannot reap its benefits?

We’ve created god-like technology sure, but humanity still exists in the context of history. No amount of algorithmically curated dance videos will take away the severity that is the middle-eastern crisis let alone the sort of messiness that goes into dealing with such issues. And yet, there’s an increasing belief that we can create world-changing technology without giving consideration to the political structures it may touch.

We feel it all around us; this sort of passivity towards anything supposedly being a breakthrough. And we look up, slightly elated upon hearing news about policies that could lead us one step closer to having less pain in this world. If we do consider technologies brilliant, it’s on the possibility of it immediately impacting our lives and a wide population as such.

We know growing disparities mean fewer will be able to enjoy the fruits of such innovations. Thousands of children are missing out on education because the market couldn’t give them internet access at this very moment. This was mainly because it wasn’t profitable to do so.

AI proved itself near useless in tackling the pandemic primarily because it sucks at understanding us; at least when we show the dramatic changes in our behavior. A lot of the problems we faced during this pandemic were due to people being noncompliant with measures that could have put the pandemic behind us. They were dismissive of the devastating potential of the virus. Authoritative institutions weren’t immune to this.

Test and trace technology proved itself a hassle to implement, and the UK government was still using Excel spreadsheets to manage Covid data, in a world of “Big Data”.

A country that was close to curbing the pandemic regressed because it hadn’t dealt with its own drastic inequities. I’m looking at you Singapore.

Like many futurists, I’m disappointed not by the nature of the breakthroughs. Sure we may have expected Flying cars and molecular manufacturing and they may come soon. But I’m increasingly pessimistic about the sort of improvements they will make in our lives.

Every passing second, the use of new technology seems to be more like trying new ways to distract ourselves rather than providing us with things that could meaningfully change the way we interact with the world and more so, ourselves.

Social problems

On the other hand, I see those very innovations drive the same forces they were meant to stave off. The internet is becoming ground zero for a growing belief that authoritarianism is justified. And this seems to be having its roots, in those who are designing our technological systems.

The innovations meant to spurn decentralization, are being used to keep an eye on us all. But the truth is we barely care.

The foundations of those technologies that supposedly help companies target us are mostly fluff; a bubble waiting to burst. The cost of which might mean the crumbling of the sort of platforms we’ve come to believe integral to our lives.

It’s gotten so severe that the companies partly responsible for it all, can’t deny it taking place, but their leadership can absolutely pretend as if it were never their fault in the first place.

Automation is picking up steam and most countries don’t have the necessary infrastructure to deal with the fallouts. Signs of automation should otherwise have been a moment of cheer. Finally, a path towards more leisure. Instead, we look at automation with despair, knowing we are not ready to pay the price for such efficiency.

It’s starting to look like the only thing more impactful than technology, are good policies.

There is no substitute for humane policy, no substitute for good law, no substitute for compassion, no substitute for the social life that helped humanity thrive in the first place.

Perhaps, we need more social revolutions than technological ones. Technological progress in itself means nothing if it isn’t people reaping the benefits thereof.

Surveys show people getting fed up with the new “minute” innovations in our lives, a general desire for more than the cheap consumerism we’ve been given.

Maybe, the systems worth thinking more about should be those that have to do with the most complicated system on earth, humanity. After all, what’s more, complicated than human nature itself? What is more complicated, than the complexity of the structures we build. Our technologies do not live independently of us, and yet, many of us (especially those of us who build) think so.

The biggest problems we face are social, not technological. It may be worth reminding ourselves, that it merely takes one incompetent leader giving orders to launch a nuclear missile to end human civilization as we know it.


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