Faith in Technology: Drilling, Driving, and Voting

Food for thought. As states and voters consider Internet for voting, based on faith in vendors that say it works, and ignoring the vast majority of independent technologists and studies that say it is unproven and risky, we point to this cautionary tale: Why Do We Worship at the Altar of Technology? <read>

If there is one true religion in the US, it leads us to worship at the altar of technology. Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist, we accept the doctrine of this shared faith: that technology provides the main path to improving our lives and that if it occasionally fails, even catastrophically, it will just take another technology to make it all better. It is this doctrine that connects BP’s Deepwater Horizon and Toyota’s sudden acceleration debacles – and the responses to them…

Of course, corporations don’t see this as their first mission, operating as they do on cost containment and profit maximisation, not cutting-edge technology as an end in itself. But their customer base has been convinced that each time they buy a new car, they are buying the future and lucky that the world’s smartest geologists and engineers are helping fuel their experience of it. Never mind that the technology they are largely buying is media and telecom gadgetry

As the article points out oil and automobiles are linked by more than technology. The analogy to voting also breaks down in another way — when it comes to voting technology, vendor profit maximization is directly linked to the technology.

Our response to BP and Toyota’s failures expose the danger in our faith. Deep anxiety aroused by the deaths in the water and on the interstates is calmed by the ameliorating belief that technology will save us, and if not now, soon. After all, the promise of technology is in the better life to come.

Recall the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) designed to use technology to save us from the alleged problems with punch-cards and lever machines, yet effectively providing us with new expensive voting equipment left vulnerable to the same risks as our previous voting systems, error and fraud.

In fact, like oil and automobiles, the problem with voting is not the technology. The problem is believing that technology itself is the source of the problems, the only necessary component of a solution, and fervent faith that the proposed next technology is the solution.

[We cannot help but point out the related natural human tendency to avoid responsibility. We seldom read that a driver drove off the road, into a house, or a tree.  It seems it was almost always the car that went off the road.]

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