It's Not Technology That Sucks, It's You
Using technology is like having sex. We like the fun, the feelings, and the connection with others. But if aren’t mindful of downstream consequences like having babies, spreading disease, and dealing with psycho ex-lovers, we can end up in situations that we never anticipated.
For the second time in as many months, I’ve watched someone drop their phone into a urinal they’ve just used only to immediately reach in and retrieve it. In both instances, the guy just kind of shrugged, washed his hands, and left. What struck me (apart from the fact that I’m never asking to use anyone’s phone ever again) is that technology well and truly dominates us. It guides and influences our lives in such an encompassing, yet subtle, way that we’ve lost sight of it. What else would make you stick your hand into a used toilet? In fact, you might choose to flush your phone if you recognized the trouble it creates.
Our devices give us access to the entire corpus of human thought. They engender connectedness and relationship with people around the world. And, unsurprisingly, they also provide a door to solicit sex, spread extremist propaganda, and act as a launching point for devastating cyberattacks. But, we use them to forward clickbait, trade cat pics, and sext with our love interests. In 2014, McAfee released a report indicating that half of all adults shared intimate content (explicit images, emails, and texts) with someone else. That’s actually 12 percent more than folks who admit to sharing their passwords and 7 percent more than people who admit to sharing their banking details with another person. At least we’re still worried about sharing passwords and banking information with each other.
Using technology is like having sex. We like the fun, the feelings, and the connection with others.
To make things worse, many of us are willfully ignorant of technology and wear that illiteracy like a badge of honor, as if we don’t need to understand the grasp it has over us. And because we've not thought through the repercussions of that asphyxiating obliviousness, we increasingly are not in control of the devices we carry, the online services we use, and the personally identifying information we surrender in order to use them. Phishing, by far the most persistent cyberthreat we face, could be solved if people would pause for two seconds to ensure the link they are about to click is the website they mean to visit. Yet they can't stop themselves.
Using technology is like having sex. We like the fun, the feelings, and the connection with others. But if we aren’t mindful of downstream consequences like having babies, spreading disease, and dealing with psycho ex-lovers, we can end up in situations that we never anticipated. We all love to play Candy Crush, post photos on Instagram, and keep up with our friends on Facebook, but we often neglect to think through the risks of those behaviors, from the bullying and exploitation of children to the increased spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Remember you control the device; it doesn't control you. And because you can limit your use of it and what you share through it, it’s your responsibility to do so.
Equally troubling is how governments and private entities use our data. If you use Google Now, in all likelihood Google knows more about you than your spouse. And yet you still use your phone as though “hotdogs or legs” is more important than protecting your data. On August 15, The New York Times revealed a partnership between the NSA and AT&T that, although previously known, is “unique and especially productive” in that it has lasted for decades. And while the story provides further details about the relationship between the NSA and AT&T, it is one story in a vast compendium of reportage on this issue. But, nothing seems to change. We still use AT&T and Google because of course if we stopped, if we suddenly decided to cease using our devices and the apps we access through them, we wouldn’t be able to right swipe our way into someone’s life.
Indeed, if you care about how companies and governments use your data and how technology runs your life, stop and think. Understand that you live in a world that is enabled and made better by technology. Everything you do from driving to communicating to managing the HVAC in your house is made possible by technology. But, it comes at a heavy price: your data.
In his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan wrote:
"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster."
Let’s avert a disaster. Here are some recommendations to begin the process of taking back control of your data:
Remember you control the device; it doesn't control you. And because you can limit your use of it and what you share through it, it’s your responsibility to do so. Don’t misunderstand me. I realize there are instances where you can’t control what happens with your data. But in those cases where you can, you should. And in the event you find yourself staring into a toilet with your phone resting at the watery bottom, perhaps it’s your responsibility to just let it go.
Jason is Chief, Innovation for Thomson Reuters Special Services where he facilitates, oversees, and executes long-term solutions to emerging technology challenges. He works closely with governments, the private-sector, and non-governmental organizations to identify opportunities that will shape the future. The views expressed are his alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Thomson Reuters or Thomson Reuters Special Services.
Image courtesy of iStock
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
- A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
- The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
- But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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