Bryan Sebesta

Technological Imagination


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Shannon Vallor:

Right now the technological imagination is sterile. It’s been breathing its own air for way too long. Start-ups chasing venture capital are stuck in a fixed groove of making apps that replace public infrastructure with something more costly and hackable. ‘How can we reinvent the bus? Or taxes?’ Or, worse, ‘How can we rehabilitate phrenology and physiognomy in AI form?’

Vallor’s condemnation “the technological imagination is sterile” has been ringing in my head ever since I read it. Her thesis, it seems to me, is that all technology is predicated on convenience/efficiency or novelty or getting rich. Most of the innovation in our world is built around making things easier. But as Vallor says, “at the very least we need alternative visions in play before we decide together what progress looks like”.

What are these “alternative visions”? Here are some visions that have been rolling around in my head:

For me, each of these points suggest pathways to less “sterile” imagination. (And I hope to write more about each soon.) As Vallor says:

There are so many better, morally and scientifically sound things that we can do with technology that aren’t being envisioned. Sometimes that’s because no one can get rich quick from them, but sometimes it’s because we are not feeding the moral and historical and political and artistic imaginations of those pursuing advanced scientific and technical education.


UPDATE: Recently I wrote about what technology is, and I realize that this, too, is part of expanding our technological imagination: broadening our definition of what constitutes “technology” in the first place.