Print Page   |   Sign In   |   Register
TL v67n3: Technology
Share |

Viewpoint: Technology

David Ratledge 


The Darker Side of Technology

David Ratledge

While I usually prefer to focus on the positive aspects of technology and all the good that comes from it, there is a darker side to technology as well. Sometimes it is worth examining this dark side so that we may better prevent unpleasant surprises and unintended consequences. With this in mind, let us briefly explore some of the concerning, perhaps anxiety-inducing, aspects of several significant emerging technologies.

Artificial Intelligence

It is easy to imagine the problems that would arise if it were possible to create a machine with a real, independent ability to think for itself instead of following courses of action predetermined by human coding. Once something is able to think for itself then it stops being something you own and the purpose for which it was originally intended becomes irrelevant. Self-awareness and the ability to make its own decisions would mean it is no longer a tool to be directed and discarded as desired, but something deserving of the same rights as a human being. Science fiction has been exploring the potential consequences of artificial intelligence for years and has yet to reach any other conclusion. It is always a worthwhile goal to build better tools, but there appears to be an obvious limit to how far this should go.

Internet of Things

If the Internet of Things becomes fully realized then we will be living in a world where common, everyday objects will have small computers embedded in them that are interconnected in a vast network via the Internet. Like is often said about spiders, with the Internet of Things there will always be one or more computer devices in close proximity to you and you may not realize it. These devices will be collecting, sending, and receiving data of various kinds with other networked devices. Just like how spiders crouch quietly nearby, out of sight, or at least out of mind, they will be there with you while you work, play, shower, and sleep. What if Internet of Things devices near you are hacked? Could they be used to gather data on your whereabouts and activities? Could your devices be forced to malfunction and hurt or kill you? Will the Internet of Things provide enough benefits to justify the risk?

Augmented Reality

Most people have probably experienced some form of augmented reality already. The popular game Pokémon GO for iOS and Android devices is a perfect example. In Pokémon GO, you use the camera on your device in conjunction with an app to “see” and “capture” various virtual creatures that are only found in certain physical locations. The creatures do not exist in the real world of course, but they appear to do so because the technology is able to blend fantasy with reality almost seamlessly to create a believable composite of both. If this type of technology became more commonplace in the future, and people are born into and grow up in a world where it is the norm for the virtual and the real to be constantly blended in a way that may be difficult to discern from one another, what will that mean for us? It is struggle enough already to separate “fake news” from good information, so what will it be like when almost everyone has a hard time telling augmented reality from real reality?

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is similar to augmented reality, but it takes things much further. Instead of overlaying elements of virtual reality on physical reality, a virtual reality is a complete simulation of everything. Everything seen and heard in a virtual reality is a simulation. There is nothing real in any of it, although real places can certainly be simulated so they can be experienced in ways that are impossible in the real world (such as the bottom of the sea or the airless surface of the moon). The dark side to virtual reality is that a virtual reality, if good enough, can be better than the real reality. Why would one ever want to come out of a virtual reality if that were the case? Why leave a clean, shiny simulation where everything you want can be had exactly the way you want it and nothing bad ever happens, for the dark and dreary real world filled with constant tension, broken promises, and unfulfilled dreams?


The continued evolution of technology holds great promise for the many ways it will help us work and live in the future, but it does have an undeniable dark side we cannot ignore. May we all heed the warnings while there is still time and not be like the fictional horror story character that always innocently checks, alone and unprepared, the strange noises heard outside the bedroom door after the monster is already in the house.  



David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Technology Infrastructure at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at




Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal