As I see it, there are two problems with technology. The first is that some of the time it does not work. As a society we tend to blame the user rather than the developer or the manufacturer when this happens. One of the greatest miscarriages of justice this century - the Royal Mail subpostmasters scandal - occurred because it was easier to send people to prison for crimes they had not committed, than to admit the computer system, Horizon, was faulty.
The second problem is that technology creates new elites - think Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, Microsoft, Google. As we saw in the last US elections, by 2020 America had reached the stage whereby Facebook and Twitter considered themselves bigger than the President of the United States. Indeed as Niall Ferguson wrote in a masterful article for the Spectator in 2017, the battle between tech and Trump was one for the ages. Having won the first fight, Trump was to be decisively beaten in the second.
The power of Big Tech also reproduces itself, in more minor but irritating ways, at the local level. When I studied at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the late 1980s, lecturers started on the hour, and you took handwritten notes. By the time I was lecturing myself a quarter of a century later, arrangements were in the style illustrated by Prof Stuart Wilks-Heeg:
And remember, these are all labour saving devices being used!
With this tech comes the rise of IT departments who replicate power in a distinct way. Staff at the University of Leicester, where I taught for a decade, were required to change their IT passwords every 90 days for security purposes. Students did not. It was no coincidence that students were paying lots of money to be at the university, whilst hourly paid lecturers like myself were employees expected to do as they were told.
One year the IT department had the bright idea of moving some staff to a new email system in exam marking week. This backfired spectacularly, and I had no access to the system for 36 hours. As an early career academic on a fixed term contract, if I was late doing my marking, the chances of me getting further contracts were zero. When I asked the IT department why they did not wait until the summer holidays to make such a major change, I was firmly put in my place; 'We have to be ready for new students coming from August'. In the new academic hierarchy, the IT department's convenience sat higher than those they provided a service too.
Forgive me therefore if I do not feel Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to liberate us for the better. Indeed, the most logical response appears to be to draw the curtains, carry on as before, using technology we are comfortable with and ignoring that which is too much trouble. And to always push back whenever change is imposed upon us.
A fund exists for those effected by the Horizon scandal, to allow subpostmasters to rebuild their lives. Donations can be made here.