Morality, technology and human nature

“(…) scientific and technical work routinely implicates politics. (…) Technological ideas and technological things are not politically neutral: routinely, they have strong, built-in tendencies.”

Isn’t it fascinating that even when we think we’ve escaped things like “politics”, “power struggles”, we haven’t really? The reason I liked science for so long, the reason I wanted to bury my face and head in it, was so I didn’t have to deal with the very imperfect human world that is shaped and pushed back and forth by human vice: pride, greed, envy to pure destructive desires. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, heck, these bad things are everywhere. Even in the idealist and vice-fighter myself!

Not only are these found in all humans, they can also permeate everything we do, be it science, technology or philosophy. That was a sad realization for me, really.

From my earliest days I had a passion for science. But science, the exercise of the supreme power of the human intellect, was always linked in my mind with benefit to people. I saw science as being in harmony with humanity. I did not imagine that the second half of my life would be spent on efforts to avert a mortal danger to humanity created by science. (Rotblat, Nobel Peace Prize speech)

As I conclude with this argument, I want to get back to the first quote of “strong, built-in tendencies”. It is theses tendencies we have, that we transmit to our inventions, our ideologies, our thoughts, our actions. Even our science and technology. It convinces me more and more. We have a great affect on the things we do as broken people.

It convinces me in a way, though this might be somewhat of a leap, of the nature of science and technological advances: a nature that is not objective, but highly subjective and with dubious intentions behind it.

Anyways, the main reason I started even talking about this is because of a paper I had to read. Funny story about my encounter with this paper: I saved it in my to-read list during IAP/winter holiday (it was sent out to my school’s CS lab mailing list). As life got busy I did not manage to read it. Then as I take two classes this semester, they both require me to read this paper. Of course, it was a win-win moment for me 😀

The paper I’m quoting is this fascinating one from Phillip Rogaway: The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work.  You can find the link for it here.

More about the paper: It has some great advice on how as a cryptographer one should view his work. Less of being only interested in the technical work and more awareness in the ethics and effects your work has. Which is a great lessor for all of us.




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