Questions we should ask ourselves when we hear about technical ‘breakthroughs’
When new technologies emerge, hype often surrounds them. This hype can make it hard to know what they truly make possible, what they could be useful for and what their impacts— both positive of harmful — could be.
Below are a set of questions that we should ask frequently when we hear about ‘breakthroughs’ in tech. I am keen to hear people’s thoughts on these, especially other questions they think are helpful.
Feel free to add yours in the comments section below.
Questions to ask ourselves frequently
- Who benefits from the world believing that this technical breakthrough is real?
- How far off are we before the technology is in the world?
- What evidence has the researcher or company provided that the technical capacity is real? In what contexts could this technology be effective and appropriate? What do we need to learn before we can know whether it is effective and appropriate in a given context?
- What research in social, historical, or technical fields has been carried out, and what does it tell us about the likelihood that this breakthrough is being accurately characterised?
- Do companies or procurers of technology explain which use cases it is good for, and which it might be less good for?
- What harm might be caused if we perceive capacity as higher than the actual capacity, and it is launched into the world?
- Who has the most to lose if the technology is hyped and prematurely rolled out?
- How does it work? No, really.
- How does it work in practice? No, really.
- What data does it need to improve its accuracy and effectiveness? And what data must it have access to in order to function? What other uses might the inventors or companies find for that data, good or bad?
- How is the data governed to prevent future uses that are different, unexpected, or directly harmful to individuals and groups?
- What laws exist to protect those potentially affected by the technology if it is launched?
- How will the technology relate to and affect existing systems? How gets to make those decisions?