According to Greek myth, Pandora was given a box by the gods that was full of evil. But Pandora was curious and, in order to satisfy that natural curiosity, opened the box. The literal story may not be a historical event, but it is an analogy for much of human technology. With every new piece of science and technology, we behold at the same time a treasure chest and a Pandora’s box. Both are opened simultaneously. The question we need to ask ourselves is not whether what is inside the treasure chest outweighs the disadvantages of opening the Pandora’s box; the question we need to ask is whether we can bear to live with what is inside that Pandora’s box.
Two pieces of technology come to mind and deserve to be contrasted as examples. The first is automatic driving systems. The second is mind reading.
Automatic driving systems present us with a treasure box that promises relaxation on long trips, reduced fear in accidents from human drivers, and the convenience of tasking robotic vehicles to do industrial chores like shipping. The traffic may increase, but this should be countered by the organization of the vehicles. The Pandora’s box associated with it includes accidents resulting from system failure or hacking of the network (used by the vehicles to “communicate” and drive safely near each other) from possibly unidentifiable sources, not necessarily in the traffic or along the roadside. To some, it also promises the loss of freedom in driving, possibly the requirement of automatic driving and activity monitoring systems in all vehicles, and adds weight to each vehicle. With convenience comes convenience. What makes things easier for us now also makes it easier for people who may have malicious intentions. Do we really want people to be able to hack into the computers of our vehicles? Never mind the fact that they might find out the music we like. What if they put a bug in the software and get vehicles to collide. This could result in a great number of deaths as a result of hackers who may be extremely difficult to identify. Would this be any better than the situation we have now with driving accidents? Is this a Pandora’s box with contents we can handle?
The other piece of technology is mind reading. There are not millions of advantages as one might think. Rather, the biggest problem would be our own will: we are prone to think things when we don’t really want them or intend to do them. Consider driving, for instance: I often think about making the wrong turn but never do because, though it has been thought about in my conscious mind, I never let the thought carry into my hands. To counter this, I suppose we could set up our software to wait for some sort of confirmation before it performed an action, much like human appendages. This might work in theory, but it would require conscious thought, thus slowing down the process and taking away one of the key advantages of reading the mind in the first place. More importantly, mind reading would need to be limited in two ways. First, for justice’s sake, mind reading should never be developed into mind control. However, once the mind is understood, it is only a matter of time before some dictatorial country tries to manipulate its people with this science and technology. Second, mind reading invades the privacy of the mind in an untold extent. Imagine, if you will, a young girl on her way home from school and a pedophile hacking her computer and reading her mind to see if she becomes suspicious of him when he meets her. This is only one example of billions of how mind control could empower criminals. Do we really want such technology to eventually get into the hands of criminal minds (as history tells us it inevitably will)? I said it before and I say it again: With convenience comes convenience. What makes things easier for us now also makes it easier for people who may have malicious intentions.
Commentary: I actually wrote this up half a month ago, but the ideas are still pretty much the same. It’s a rather brief summary since that basically leaves you to imagine for yourself Murphy’s Law applied to convenience in technology: What can go wrong inevitably will.