3 Things That Should Never Be Computerized

With the rapidly advancing pacing of technology and computerization in recent decades, it is easy to forget that technology is a means to human endeavor — not its end. There are certain portions of the human experience that should remain outside the sphere of computer or robotic encroachment.

1. Morality

Unfortunately, computers are not subtle or critical thinking machines. They see the world through a Manichean lens — one and zero. There is no room for ambiguity; similar to the one question of the Myer-Briggs test that drives everyone crazy, "You value justice higher than mercy. Yes/No?" This is why internet filters sometimes are so easy to work around or block appropriate material. A computer cannot sense the subtle differences that constitute human morality. As Justice Potter Stewart put it when defining pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Computers retain and store information, but cannot understand its meaning. Without this crucial component they are not capable of making moral judgments on a human level.

2. Warfare

If computers cannot make moral judgments, their role in warfare should be carefully considered, to say the least. While I think we should be wary of involving technologies which have such positive potential in the business of death — high-tech and cyber warfare are facts of life. What we must be particularly wary of is exporting the actual act of killing to computers.

However barbaric, the impersonal, video game-esque killing techniques of drones are controlled by (hopefully) moral agents, their pilots are 3,000 miles away. Ultimately, they still have to push the button. A real danger lies in the creation of autonomous killing machines — uncontrolled drones programmed to kill a certain enemy — a science fiction horror story come to life. Making the robot the killer instead of the human will ultimately make killing more common. Decisions of life and death are far easier to make in an off hand manner when killing is so impersonal. A robot will do what it is told within the limits of its programming — if that involves destroying a whole city, so be it.

3. Life Itself

Computers have become a part of our lives to the extent they are almost ubiquitous (as this viral video demonstrates). At current rates of “progress,” wearable computers may become a new norm, if they can find a place. Certainly industry hopes this is the case, with Smart Watches and Google Glass coming soon. But there is one set of technologies which are particularly worrying in this regard — life logging technologies — wearable devices that record every moment of your life.

There are two main reasons to control these technologies: Because they inherently violate other individuals' rights, and to prevent people from harming themselves. They violate other individuals' rights by recording them without their permission — imagine all the voyeurism issues created by cell phone cameras, and multiply that by an impossibly high figure.

In a society which so highly values individualism, it can be difficult to make arguments to prevent a consenting adult from engaging in any activity, but life logging leaves a person particularly vulnerable in ways they may not understand. All personal information would be at risk, financial records and cards, health records, anything you put in front of your life logging device is recorded. Other factors of concern are increased such as, cyberbullying and government surveillance.

Remember that part in the Constitution about self-incriminating evidence? Guess not.

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Brendan Behrmann

I acquired an interest in both politics and religion at a young age. With degrees in History, Middle East Studies (focus on Sufism and Shi'ism), and Information Studies, my work is focused on the Middle East, new technology, and the ways information is used and abused. I was born in the US and am currently based in Toronto.

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