The Big Question
What Technology Would Society Be Better Off Without?Illustration by Valerie Morgan William W. Bowerman Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Science and Technology Smartphones. As I travel around the world and view amazing places and talk with wonderful people, the most common view I have is of people looking at their phones. We are too fixated on our phones, and we are missing too much of the real world. Learning how to balance screen time and real time is essential to making this a livable planet. The more we talk with others and learn from them, the less different we find that we are.
Woodie Kessel Professor of the Practice, Department of Family Science The 21st century AR-15, “America’s rifle,” was designed to kill effectively and efficiently. This civilian semiautomatic high-capacity version of the M4/M16 military-assault weapon is capable of firing a bullet 15 times faster than muskets, circa the 1791 Second Amendment era. Since the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, gun-massacre fatalities have increased about 347%, often with one thing in common: advanced high-tech killing machines, a lethal technology that we could surely live without!
Sahar Khamis Associate Professor, Department of Communication As a media analyst, communication scholar, educator and parent, I am skeptical of some of the new technology-enabled applications, such as Snapchat, that could be exploited or misused to communicate offensive, inappropriate or even harmful and damaging content without accountability or responsibility. Some young users of such applications may certainly hold a very different opinion, which is fine. You can simply call it a generational gap!
Gary LaFree Chair, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice; Founding Director, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 3D-printed guns. Following on the heels of recent technological advances, individuals and companies have been releasing a range of plastic guns, from pistols to AR-15 type assault rifles that can be downloaded and reproduced by anybody with a 3D printer. The guns cannot be picked up by airport metal detectors. Regulating their production is extremely difficult, and there is already a worldwide network anonymously sharing blueprints and methods. There is no easy way to stop their spread.
Dave Levin Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science While I hesitate to say that there are no benefits to any given technology, I am increasingly concerned about “deepfakes”: AI that can convincingly alter video of one person to look like someone else. In a society that already grapples with overwhelmingly obvious facts, I fear we may not be prepared to handle convincing fakes. Worse yet, it may provide cover to those who are caught on video red-handed. Goodbye fake news; hello deepfake news.
Sean Mussenden Senior Lecturer, Philip Merrill College of Journalism I can think of few single technologies more destructive than gasoline-powered internal combustion engines used in cars, trucks and planes. Because of their outsize contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions powering the climate crisis—15% of all global emissions in 2010, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they represent an existential threat to human civilization.
Jana Vandergoot Assistant Professor, Architecture Program Society might be better off (just for a day!) without trees. Trees are intricately designed living tools that have potential to be better understood and developed by humans as a technology to address many problems society faces, including atmospheric conditions that spur climate change, availability of safe drinking water, and mental health of city dwellers. The disaster of not having trees on earth for a day would help society see their indispensability. Share your answer or suggest a future question in the Comment section.
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