The supposed disadvantages of digital technology

Here are three recent events that, at first glance, are not connected to each other.

A couple of days ago, two Israeli soldiers accidentally drove into a Palestinian refugee camp, provoking clashes that left a Palestinian man dead. The soldiers had been using the Google-owned navigation app Waze which apparently sent them the wrong way.

Around the same time, news surfaced that for the first time, an autonomous Google car had caused an accident. In all previous incidents, other parties were those responsible for accidents.

Still ongoing is the dispute between Apple (and its supporting allies) and the US government about whether the FBI should be able to access a dead terrorist’s smartphone by forcing Apple to create a backdoor.

These three different events don’t have anything specifically to do with each other. However, they are representing a common theme: The supposed disadvantages of digital technology. Highlighting those is considered a popular discipline among mass media outlets, techno skeptics, intelligence agencies and certain political groups.

 

Certainly digital technology comes with risks and disadvantages. However, if all attention is concentrated on a couple of particular high-profile stories, a distorted picture of reality evolves. To each of these stories, there is at least one other side:

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Even if the usage of Waze, which relies on crowdsourced traffic data, has caused a few tragic situations (another example), how many times in history did people face trouble because their paper map was not accurate, or because they read the paper map wrong, or because they did not have a map? There obviously are no stats about that, but one can be sure it happened all the time.

About accidents with self-driving cars: Google states that its cars have self-driven over 1 million miles. One self-induced accident over a distance of more than 1 million miles proves that the technology outperforms any human driver already by a wide margin. It will only get better.

When it comes to encryption of people’s personal data, each and every high-profile criminal or terrorist case can be compared to tens of millions of situations in which people’s data, integrity and safety are successfully being protected by the very use of encryption. It’s so easy to ignore the massive upside when you have a few tragic, emotionally charged cases which receive all the attention.

While discussions about the risks and problems introduced by new digital technology need to happen, an objective stance is crucial. Whenever a single issue gets an extraordinary amount of attention, lots of individual interests prevent objectivity and create pressure which is not helpful in finding the best possible outcome.

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