Jun 10

Our Technology ...

by Sargent Shriver Peace Institute | 06/10/2019 6:00AM | Quote of the Week | Citizenship | Human Rights

Our Technology

Our Technology ...

Our Quote of the Week expresses a concern many of us share: that technology is developing at a speed that does not always allow us to use it in ways that honor our humanity, our dignity, and our fragility. To be sure, the technological advancements we have seen over the past 50 years are extraordinary -- they are life-changing and even life-saving -- but, as with anything else we plan for in society, we must always remember to place the welfare of human beings at the center of everything we do.

In 1969, Sargent Shriver was part of a panel called "New Revolution and the University" at Brandeis, and it was in this context that he spoke these words. He was visiting the United States from Paris, where he was serving as US Ambassador to France. He had had first-hand experience with student protests in both countries during what was a turbulent time on both sides of the Atlantic. In the speech, he refers to this unrest among young people and he takes aim at the rigidity and narrow-mindedness of the educational system as one of the causes. It is in this context that he turns his attention to technology, stating that it is part of what the rational mind has created. He acknowledges its importance, stating: "Through technology, system, intelligence, reason directed towards a goal, we can touch the stars. Through passion, creativity, love and communion, we can renew the earth." He emphasizes that both are important, and it is at this point that he cautions the audience about technology.

In 1969, it would have been difficult for anyone to imagine the technological advancements that have occurred over the past 50 years. And yet Sargent Shriver's words continue to be relevant today. We believe that Sarge would be excited to see the ways in which technology is able to connect people, to amplify the voices of the vulnerable, to ease physical burdens, and even to heal. But without the humanity that is needed to deploy our technology with "love and communion," the potential for conflict, injustice, and destruction exists on a much larger scale than ever before. From the force of the weapons at our disposal, to the unethical and unjust ways that facial recognition, surveillance, and social media can be used to track and manipulate, to the disruptions that artificial intelligence has the potential to cause, there are numerous ways in which our technology can limit, oppress, and even destroy. 

We are living in an exciting age, and this is true in large part because of the technologies we have developed. Today we have access to the tools to solve many of the challenges that humanity faces. What we need to keep developing alongside these tools is our ability to act as ethical neighbors and citizens, to communicate with respect for our common humanity, and to make decisions that honor the dignity and human rights of all human beings.

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