Considering the Human Aspect of Technology

Considering the Human Aspect of Technology
Considering the Human Aspect of Technology

Designers, scientists, and thinkers keep in mind the relationships between new technology and humans when developing new products and evolved technologies. They are not dropped into a vacuum. How disruptive technology and humans interact can lead to long-term consequences. 

Pew Research Center’s annual technology survey showed recent positive and negative consequences of new products. From 2010 to 2019, the survey found (source): 

  • 64% of Americans agree that social media gives voice to underrepresented groups
  • 37% of Americans use their smartphones as primary Internet access points
  • 84% of Americans don’t believe they have control over data collected by governments
  • 68% of Americans believe online misinformation harms confidence in governments

We can look through the history of how technology and humans evolved to understand these complexities. No look at technology and humans is complete without understanding emerging ethical concerns. Evaluating the positives and negatives of technology help us bring new ideas to life in responsible ways. 

Baylor University’s Online Master of Computer Science opens new opportunities for responsible design. You can build on your interest in the impact of technology on human life through this innovative program. 

Technology and Humans in Perspective

Evangelists and critics paint largely positive or negative images of how technology and humans interact. Understanding the impact of technology on human life requires a balanced view. As an aspiring innovator, you can guide how technology accentuates the positives and minimizes the negatives. 

Technology and Humans: Positive Outcomes

Millions of households in the United States now take for granted that technology makes their lives easier. Public polling confirms this statement as consumers see technology as the driver for social and economic change. 

Pew Research Center surveyed Americans in 2017 about the causes behind improvements in daily life. The results showed the following causes for improved lives (source): 

  • Technology (42%)
  • Medicine and health (14%)
  • Civil and equal rights (10%)
  • Economy (8%)
  • Quality of life (5%) 

Technology simplifies tedious tasks, improves health, and opens new possibilities. The other causes identified in the poll are intertwined with the relationships between technology and humans. 

Pew’s 2017 poll also revealed how people view the next 50 years of social improvement. Respondents presented a more balanced view of how society will improve through (source): 

  • Technology (22%)
  • Medicine and health (20%)
  • Economy (9%)
  • Politics (7%)
  • Energy and environment (5%) 

A 2016 survey by Pew Research Center asked a simpler question: What is technology’s overall effect on society? Fifty-two percent of respondents had mostly positive views of technology compared to 8 percent with mostly negative views. 

The positive effects identified by respondents included (source): 

  • Ease, speed, and convenience of information (57%)
  • Health and medicine (21%)
  • Workplace improvements (11%) 

Technology and humans create positive outcomes in the right conditions. The impact of technology on human life cannot be assessed without considering negative outcomes. 

Technology and Humans: Negative Outcomes

The negative elements of the relationship between technology and humans are largely attributed to computers and mobile phones. Streaming content, social media, and access to work documents have led to device dependency. 

Business Insider delved into how this dependency creates unhealthy consequences. Common outcomes of tech dependency include (source): 

  • Strained relationships;
  • Difficulties with in-person interactions; 
  • Reduced creativity and focus due to immediate availability of information;
  • Immediate availability of information also contributes to reduced creativity and focus on details.

The negative aspects of technology extend into physical and mental health. Frequent computer and device use contributes to insomnia, bad posture, and reduced physical activity. The University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Institute found increased depression among the most frequent social media users (source). 

In 2018, Pew Research Center sought stories about the positives and negatives aspects of technology. A researcher provided the following overview of how technology and humans struggle on a grand scale (source): 

“In the small, digital technology has been a highly positive experience. I work from home part-time — a wonderful contribution to my well-being — and I keep in contact with friends too distant to see often. It is in the large — the societal — where I feel the negative aspects of the digital world have personal consequences for me, an impact on my well-being. The rise of hatred, the manipulation of politics and so on — these are not distant events with no personal impact.” 

Technology and Humans: Ethical Considerations

The limits of tech development are not merely what consumers find acceptable or technology makes possible. Design teams, researchers, and corporations need to consider how their innovations reflect right and wrong.  

The AI Now 2018 Symposium placed the enormity of tech ethics into context. A timeline from September 2017 to September 2018 detailed myriad ethics questions raised by new initiatives. Among the 37 events on the timeline included (source): 

  • Palantir uses predictive policing without New Orleans council knowledge (February 27, 2018)
  • Release of Microsoft Face API (March 1, 2018)
  • Fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot technology (March 23, 2018)
  • The United Kingdom used a flawed algorithm to wrongfully deport people (May 3, 2018)
  • Facebook security breach compromises user data (September 28, 2018)

The widespread use of social media, smart devices, and algorithms strikes a tenuous balance between convenience and chaos. Future innovators can ensure technology and humans work well together by observing ethical behavior. 

Technology and Humans: Values in Practice

No uniform ethical standards akin to the Hippocratic Oath in medicine exists for technology. Tech anthropologist Aparna Ashoka has proposed the following ethical principles for tech development (source): 

  • Wellbeing: Users guide and participate in the evolution of a product
  • Inclusion: Products accommodate a broad range of users
  • Privacy: Users control who sees and uses their data
  • Security: Multiple levels of design protect consumers from harm
  • Accountability: Products tested to root out biases and flaws with continued improvement
  • Trust: Users know the values and authenticity of products

Government agencies, universities, and companies alike benefit from following similar standards. A code of ethics woven into technology comforts customers and leads to unique avenues for innovation. Enlightened scientists and leaders reinforce these values through every project.

Technology and Humans Before World War II

You might think of computers, software, and mobile phones when considering technology and humans. We’ve seen an acceleration of technological advancement in recent years that obscure past achievement. 

The Atlantic interviewed scientists and historians about the most important advancements since the creation of the wheel. These interviews led to the following top innovations (source): 

  1. Gutenberg’s printing press (1440)
  2. Electricity (late 19th century)
  3. Penicillin (1928)
  4. Semiconductors (1904)

The story of how technology and humans interrelate is told through these innovations. 

Technology and Humans in the Renaissance

The Renaissance era in Europe is often credited with the global spread of philosophical, religious, and cultural ideas. Without phones or Internet, however, ideas were stuck at their point of origin for centuries. 

Technology and humans showed their potential to promote ideas through Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. Gutenberg was a German inventor who researched methods for mass printing operations. To that point, publications were created by hand or using laborious woodblock printing processes. 

Gutenberg’s press combined the principles of woodblock printing with movable components for mass production. The first products of this press were 180 copies of a bible in 1454 (source). By the 16th century, similar presses could be found in major European cities. 

The printing press made it possible for broader audiences to read bibles, stories, and official documents. Mass-produced books led to increased literacy in regions where education was limited to the wealthy. Technology and humans owe great debts to the transfer of ideas made possible by Gutenberg’s creation. 

Technology and Humans in the Modern Era

We see the wide variety of outcomes for technology and humans in the remainder of The Atlantic’s top innovations. The period between the American Civil War and World War II proved a fruitful time for technological advancement. 

An innovation as significant as electricity emerged from decades of contentious battles between inventors. Thomas Edison advocated for safe, short-distance transmission using direct current (DC) systems. Nikola Tesla pushed for alternating current (AC) to create abundant power for consumers spread throughout the world (source). 

Edison has been the prototype for generations of inventors, though Tesla’s AC system became the norm for electrical transmission. The product of these “current wars” is a modern world with better conditions for billions of people. 

Semiconductors were first patented in 1904 but decades of iteration made these components essential to consumer products. The Nobel Prize in Physics was given to a trio of innovators focused on semiconductors in 1956. Throughout the 20th century, semiconductors became smaller and more efficient to accommodate portable electronics (source). 

The introduction of penicillin and antibiotics to the world was an offshoot of Alexander Fleming’s influenza research in 1928. Fleming’s research led Howard Florey to research the interaction of mold and bacteria in 1938. Fleming and Florey saw their work manifested in the following ways (source): 

  • Albert Alexander was the first test subject in 1940
  • Anne Miller was the first patient treated with a production version in 1942
  • 400 million units were produced in 1942
  • Fleming, Florey, and Ernst Chain won a Nobel Prize in 1945

Technology and Humans in the Past Century

Since World War II, the world has seen growing interconnectivity between technology and humans. Massive research investments by companies and governments have yielded technology that saves and enriches lives. 

Popular Mechanics detailed the inventions with the biggest impacts from 1954 to 2019. We can use the decade markers to show the impact of technology on human life (source): 

  • 1960: Pacemaker
  • 1970: Fiber Optics
  • 1980: Cobalt-oxide Cathode
  • 1990: Adobe Photoshop
  • 2000: Sony PlayStation 2

From 1960 to 2000, we saw a shift from essential hardware to software and tools of convenience. This collection of innovations brings to mind the daily connections between technology and humans. 

Technology and Humans: Pacemaker

A pacemaker uses electrical signals to control abnormal heart rates. From 1950 to 1960, the pacemaker went from an experimental device to a viable lifesaver. 

John Hopps is credited with the first pacemaking prototype in 1950. This external machine sent signals through the jugular vein via vacuum tubes. The tubes were replaced by transistors by its first use in 1958. (source). 

William Greatbatch created the first internal pacemaker in 1958. Greatbatch discovered how to make his device function by installing the wrong resistor by accident. This pacemaker was first given to a patient in 1960 and evolved into the pacemakers used today (source). 

Statista estimated 1.14 million pacemakers were used around the world in 2016. The number of pacemakers is expected to reach 1.43 million pacemakers by 2023 (source). Pacemakers show how technology and humans evolve through iteration and moments of inspiration. 

Technology and Humans: Fiber Optics

Global growth of the information economy would not have been possible without fiber optics. In the past, copper wires were used to transmit phone and data via electrical pulses. Copper wiring is an affordable but limited method for long-distance communications. 

A research team at Corning Glass filed a patent in 1970 for fiber optic wiring. The team drew on decades of previous innovation including (source): 

  • Alexander Graham Bell’s Photophone voice transmission in 1880
  • Henry Saint-Rene’s glass rod device for image transmission in 1895
  • Heinrich Lamm’s experiments with optical fiber bundling in 1930
  • C.K. Kao’s long-range communication specifications in 1964

Fiber optic systems use light waves instead of electrical signals for greater efficiency in communications. The medium for fiber optic communications is compressed glass threads. The Corning Glass team determined that fiber optics carry up to 65,000 times more data than copper wires (source). 

Technology and humans saw their boundaries expanded thanks to fiber optics. By 2000, approximately 15 million of fiber optic cables were used to transfer 80% of long-range communications (source). The rapid growth of Internet access and streaming services would not have been possible without fiber optics. 

Technology and Humans: Cobalt-oxide Cathode

Lithium-ion batteries are used to power everything from your smartphone to electric vehicles. Electronics giant Sony first brought a production version of the battery to market in 1991. This battery would not have been possible without the creation of the cobalt-oxide cathode. 

A cathode facilitates the flow of electrical current through a device. Cobalt-oxide cathodes are durable and stable enough for batteries to survive years of recharging. 

John Goodenough’s work at the University of Oxford proved the breakthrough for commercial cathodes. Goodenough discovered that cobalt oxide would increase battery capacity without sacrificing performance or life (source). 

Technology and humans may not have advanced to our present state without Goodenough’s discovery. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2019 due to the global impact of his work (source). Billions of consumers worldwide are able to take battery-powered devices for granted. 

Technology and Humans: Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop has joined the ranks of Google and Ubers as brands that serve as verbs. This design software allows users to edit photos, videos, and 3D graphics. As with many stories about technology and humans, Photoshop started as an inventor’s experiment. 

Doctoral student Thomas Knoll created the foundations of Photoshop in 1987 to enhance his computer’s image editing capabilities. Knoll was encouraged by his brother to expand and promote his innovation to tech companies (source). 

Adobe acquired the license for Photoshop in 1988 and distributed it through Mac computers starting in 1990. Microsoft’s adoption of Photoshop starting in 1993 put the software on the path to global success. Adobe estimates that 90% of artists and designers around the world use Photoshop (source). 

Technology and Humans: Sony PlayStation 2

Home gaming systems, portable games, and smartphone game apps have turned billions into gamers. Statista estimated a growth in global gamers from 1.82 billion in 2014 to 2.7 billion in 2021 (source). 

Sony’s PlayStation 2 bridged the gap between the Nintendos and Segas of the past and networked gaming in the future. The PlayStation 2 introduced in 2000 featured a DVD player, cutting-edge graphics, and compatibility with PlayStation games (source). Sony designers created an important step toward high-performance systems that are now the norm. 

From 2000 to 2011, 153 million PlayStation 2s were sold globally with a 2003 peak of 22.5 million units (source). Video game systems show that technology and humans do not need to stick to business in their interactions. 

Technology and Humans Need Guidance

Throughout history, technology and humans have changed each other through trial and error. The aforementioned developments and ethical qualms provide clear guidance on how to maximize the positive aspects of technology. 

You possess the skills and education to understand the theoretical underpinnings of good design. Baylor University vaults students into leadership positions in cybersecurity, software engineering, and data science with its online master’s program. 

Technology and Humans Converge at Baylor University

Baylor University has produced tech innovators over the past century. Gordon Teal graduated in 1927 and helped create the first silicon transistor for computers in 1954 (source). Allene Rosalind Jeanes developed the plasma substitute dextran and food ingredient xanthan gum after graduating in 1928 (source). 

U.S. News & World Report confirms Baylor University’s reputation for cutting-edge programs and graduate return on investment. The university earned a No. 42 place in Most Innovative Schools for 2020. Baylor’s No. 75 rank in Best Value Schools shows how well graduates fare in their careers (source). 

The Online Masters in Computer Science creates the next generation of innovators connecting technology and humans. Online courses reinforce the skills needed to balance innovation, industry demand, and ethics. Take the next step toward creating useful and responsible technology by contacting an enrollment team member.