The Techno-Human Condition

Technologies inhabit two rather independent realities. First there is the reality of the immediate effectiveness of the technology itself as it is used by those trying to accomplish something. This is a level 1 technology (ie. a jet airplane). The other reality is that of systemic complexity – level 2 technology includes subsystems that when acting together create emergent behaviour that is often unpredictable and infinitely more complicated. (ie. the air transportation system)

From The Techno-Human Condition:

At level 2 one gets phenomena such as “lock-in” which occurs when economic, cultural, and coupled technology systems coalesce around a particular way of doing something – as we see in the automobile industry, where hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology is feasible today, but the energy-supply infrastructure necessary to support it is not. The gasoline internal-combustion engine is thus “locked-in” by the economic interests of the suppliers of petroleum fuels, the physical infrastructure of the pipelines and gas stations, the interdependency of gasoline internal-combustion engines and gasoline, and the cultural role of fossil-fuel consuming automobiles.

“Lock-in” of course, does not imply that technological change is impossible – merely that it strongly tends to follow the paths that reflect past system states. This concept of “Lock-in” relates directly to the current state of education reform. 

Education reform is a hot topic precisely because everyone has a vested interest in education and claim varying levels of experience and expertise in either attending or working in the system. What is apparent however is that no other industry ignores it’s research more than education. Building upon the works of progressive educators such as Dewey, Piaget, Papert and Heppell, we know what education should look like – and it looks very different from the rigid, timetabled, standardized approach advocated in most areas today. Whilst there is pockets of reform and innovation happening in education sectors around the world, the education system, as a level 2 technology, is “locked in” by the economic and emotional interests of policy makers and commercial stakeholders. The inertia inherent with system-wide reform efforts and policy changes makes me think that we may be wasting time with the continual dialogue about the “schools we need.” Instead of waiting for policy-makers to make decisions, those involved in education at a local level just need to follow the Channel 4 slogan, “Do it first, make trouble, inspire change.”

The Techno-Human Condition is a challenging look at the implications of the exponential growth and developments in technology and the implications that this has for society. The book explores the possibility of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies such as neuropharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, genetic modifications, prenatal dietary interventions and computer-brain interfaces, to eliminate ageing and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical and psychological capacities.                                        

Highly recommended.

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