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Winner suggests that we surrogate our responsibility to these technologies. Do you think Winner is right or wrong Answer

Winner says, “It is clear that in decades to come a great many things like telephone answer machines and automatic bank tellers will become, in effect, members of our society.” More recent technologies that could be included in Winner’s list include the smart phone, online banking, and online shopping. Winner suggests that we surrogate our responsibility to these technologies. Do you think Winner is right or wrong? Be sure to give reasons for your answer and include specific technologies to support your point.

You will frequently read me write in these discussions: TECHNOLOGY INFORMS CULTURE. One characteristic of an ordinary human life is that we rarely think about the culture in which we are embedded. So for us working for a wages seems normal.   Choosing a mate seems normal. Talking on the phone seems normal. Yet in many cultures and our not long ago you would own your own farm not work for someone else, parents would chose your spouse, and talking face to face had no alternative for most people.   Yet each one of these behaviors is very much a part of large complex system of social rules and expectations that affect our relationships to each other and are affected not only by cultural traditions but also by technology.   Keep in mind the definition of technology as you respond to this question.Can we really surrogate our human responsibilities to a technology? What can it mean to have a technology take over a human responsibility?

Jobs are absolutely being replaced by computers and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve seen it coming for years, but I don’t think that we really considered that the ‘computer takeover’ would become a reality (think I, Robot or even The Jetsons). Clearly, the majority of the jobs that our children seek will be technology related and will probably focus on computer maintenance. Though I know our job market will be severely impacted, I have to admit that I’m looking forward to having my own “Rosie”.

do you have evidence that computers are taking away jobs? I assume you mean reducing the number of jobs for human workers. The population of the US has about doubled in the last 60 years and we still seem to have work for almost everyone who wants to work. Its true that our current economic problem has reduced employment but its not clear to me that that is because of computers. There should be online scholarly studies that have something to say about this.

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal online and it talks about how computers are doing our jobs, but at the same time, new jobs are being created. The article is Obama vs. ATMs: Why Technology Doesn’t Destroy Jobs and can be found at

My view on robotics is that of a convenience and an aid to day to day operations. Of course, I don’t work in a factory, clean pools, or wash cars for a living. So, it’s easy for me to say right now. As robotics evolves, I would love to see a humanoid “Rosie” or “Sonny” aiding in every day life. I do have the Roomba which manages that all important task of vacuuming. Even in the infancy of robotics, it’s able to avoid clumsily vacuuming itself off my staircase for my entertainment, or go into rooms that I’d prefer to keep dirty. The same company that makes the Roomba, also has just receives FDA approval on their latest robot, which looks like an iPad mounted to a Segway. Apparently, this will revolutionize the health industry.

Do you think it’s more likely, that the ATM is there to save you the trip to the bank or that the ATM is there because the bank corporation finds it more profitable that hiring more clerks to wait on you in the bank?  

I would say that ATM machines are strategically located by banks with respect to making money and not because they are concerned about saving us a trip to the bank. Most ATM machines are free for individuals who bank at the institution that owns the machine. The banks know this and are betting on the likelihood that they wil be able to capitalize on people who do not bank at their institution. I would not be at all surprised if they have conducted studies to determine their market penetration in the area so they have an idea of the expected number of individuals most likely to use the machines weekly, monthly,etc.

i would agree. the ATMs are just an extra way to earn the money from people who are willing to pay the use fee to withdraw cash. The banks feed off the idea that people rather pay this fee than stay organized, always carry some cash rather than plastic. They also know that people will pay this fee rather than deal with changing the banking institution and accounts. The ATM is also great marketing tool which gives the bank a presence in more areas giving impression of being big but avoiding big costs of having location. The market penetration comes along here as you mentioned.

Some of the automated tools the AF has deployed on line makes me wonder about this Gal. Some of the personnel actions (travel pay, retirement application, tuition assistance) is handled via an online application. It’s all fine and dandy until something doesn’t work, or the customer requests something that does not fit into the options, nor is covered in the ‘frequently asked questions’ section. Usually, one would call a customer service number, but that’s not an option anymore. Now, we have to submit a message in a e-drop box. Sometimes the response we get is more instructions…but we never get to talk to an actual human without really digging into the system. One of the first things I try to do when going to a new office is find who the actual people are who can pull the systems off of auto-pilot. It used to be manageable, but now it’s becoming almost impossible.

While technology can handle a large amount of our needs. Inevitabily technology will break down or your situation will require human intervention. Human specialist at this time will need to step in to fix the break down or resolve your issue.

I sometimes wonder if it would be better to have brain surgery through a robotic surgery that might break down, or have a human being doing the surgery who was hungover from the night before and just had a big argument with his wife about their teenage son who had just been arrested for marijuana possession.

It’s my opinion that human error is much more common than robotic failures. That being said, short of catching a “I am Legend” style zombie virus, there is no virus that exists today that could make that human brain surgeon intentionally harm a person. Meanwhile, we have hackers gaining infamy for creating strings of software that deliberately impede peoples lives already. The argument could be made that the risk reward of this risk-reward comparison of the two would be comparable. On one hand, there is a low to moderate risk of an incompetent brain surgeon that could yield mildly hazardous to mid range hazardous results. On the other hand we have a robot that’s governed by human entered programming that has an extremely low risk of failure, but in the event of failure has completely catastrophic results (Think hackers turning your Robo-Brain surgeon into a blender).

In some instances, I would prefer a little human error. I mean this in the sense of an actual person to be able to deviate from the ‘programmed’ course of action. It gives a patient, physician or consumer leeway to make decisions. One big question that pops in my mind when I hear about ‘robot’ surgery is who is making the decisions? Is it centralized or open-sourced? If it is centralized, who makes the decisions? Is it the attending physician, the computer, an insurance adjuster, or? This treads into some really sensitive territory when one looks at this from a human perspective? If a robot or bureaucrat is making decisions about a person’s treatment, does that not kind of make the person more of a commodity? Is that what the majority of people want for the future?

Personal advice to anyone looking to get brain surgery in the present age: don’t agree to have surgery if there will only be 1 neurosurgeon in the operating room; there should be a team (of doctors and nurses) working in there to make sure everyone is following protocol.

Back to the robot: It’s good that the machine wouldn’t be distracted by it’s personal issues (perhaps its power source), but would it be able to consider MY personal interests and potential quality of life impacts of surgery as the patient while it’s operating? Would I be forced to select from a number of surgery options akin to the ‘bundled’ services offered by cable companies? A personal example, I’m a musician, the area my tumor was located in was very close to an area that is associated with being able to discern between multiple timbres and notes. Many of the consults I received prior to surgery expressed that my musical abilities were very likely to be negatively impacted. One surgeon (who didn’t operate on me), stated, ‘be glad you don’t make a living playing music.” The standard course of surgery for my condition was a ‘lobectomy,’ which would be to remove my entire right temporal lobe. Surgeons usually do this to widen the margins around a tumor to get as much of the microscopic cancer cells as possible. Diffuse astrocytomas are known to have microscopic ‘tentacles’ and they almost always re-occur in due time, which is one of the reasons they are considered incurable. Anyhow, my neurosurgeon had spent hours consulting with me and learning about my personality, family and such. When I came out of surgery and was stable, my mother brought an acoustic guitar into my recovery room. To my amazement, my musical skills were not effected one bit. Later, I asked my surgeon why I was not effected. He told me that he took that into consideration during the surgery, and opted not to invade those areas of my temporal lobe as he knew I was a musician. He also added that my quality of life is just as important to him as fighting this disease. Can/could robots do that?

point is that human’s are fallible too, just because machines breakdown sometimes does not strike me a valid argument against using there. After all we could all walk where we are going instead of driving because cars break down…but then humans fall down too don’t they. I just watched an on line video showing a woman in England texting on her phone and walking into an ice filled canal.  

The possession of technology has really made interactions between people not as personal as it used to be. We are in an age where a surgeon can conduct surgery on an individual from another country. I think allowing technology to certain task such as an assembly line to make goods is more effective than a human could ever do it. For technology to take over for a human responsibility it would mean not only a loss of jobs as many people may initially think, but there may be longevity, no use to have to train an individual to perform the job, etc. On the other end the calculated choices that humans make won’t be present and also the maintenance to keep technology going will be necessary too.

An example I would give in discussing what it can mean to have a technology take over a human responsibility are the “dark pools” on Wall Street – the high speed traders and the quants. A fairly small group of people (when compared to retail investors) have used amazingly complex mathematical formulas and high powered computers to be able to take advantages of tiny fluctuations in stock prices. This has allowed them to take billions of dollars out of the market, While some of the same technology allows me to bypass an expensive broker and make trades from my phone for a few bucks, it certainly has had a big effect in redistributing wealth, and puts the individual investor at a huge disadvantage, The lack of confidence in the market has altered the economic landscape. Even for people who aren’t active investors, we all have paid for this in our 401(k)s and IRA’s.   High speed trading has gotten way ahead of where regulations are.

This example makes some of Winner’s suggestions hard for me. When he says “No innovation without representation, no engineering without deliberation, no means without ends,” the age of his article (1991) really shows. Technological advances can occur at such lightening speed that it is difficult to envision an environment where reasonable consideration of their impact can be given. In the lecture, it says “By contemplating what might be on the horizon, people can conceivably plan and prepare for what lies ahead . . . they can actively decide how they will live in the future by making choices today and thoughtfully considering the consequences of their decisions.” How can this happen, without severely restricting people’s freedom to innovate and invent? Think about all the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of iPhone and Android apps. Is it reasonable to think there’s some way to give serious consideration to the ethical and social impact of each one? And who decides? I don’t know which is more depressing to me – the fact that technological developments seem totally out of control, or that control of technological developments would suppress freedom.

What will we do with ourselves once we become obsolete?

Won’t we need for people to learn about and work on the machines? We can keep busy still; we will be building, repairing and improving the machines.

Not all humans will become obsolete, only the ‘essential’ workers will eventually be left, like: the designers, builders, programmers, and some repair personnel. I love to watch the television show, ‘How It’s Made’ – I don’t remember the channel right now – and I have seen robots operating robots.. It seems to me that there is a race as to what will make the human race extinct or just about extinct, and it is between technology and the depletion of the ozone layer.

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