23 July 2012

Value-Loaded Technology

Today, The Washington Post counts more then 25,000 people convened in the US capital in tune with the AIDS 2012 conference. The theme is 'Turning the Tide Together'.

As a technologist I walk the AIDS 2012 conference's Global Village in awe, admiring the mix of research, activists, civil society, and the obviously massive investments for the public good. I listen carefully to rousing speeches of dignitaries like the president of the World Bank Group, all calling for an end to the pandemic, and linking the fight against AIDS with the others, like the fight against absolute poverty. They echo the sentiments I discussed with Vint Cerf last week.

However, I feel quite lonely, no exhibition of technology on display at AIDS 2012 at all, it seems. Are we turning the tide together?

Nobody denies that the fights against AIDS and absolute poverty are important, and supersede politics and, maybe, even economics. These fights are justified by basic human values, like loving care. Values are operationalised by human intentions, and if technology amplifies human intent, where are the technologists to turn the tide, together?

Technology and values are closely related. The creation and/or availability of technology is a value-laden enterprise. Technology is a material part of culture and society and therefore its availability, or even its creation, is a moral, and possibly even political, act. Of course, technology itself is neither smart nor dumb, moral nor immoral. It is in the targeting of its utilization where the values, and morals, play out.

Thus, the discussion of appropriate use of technology, for instance in HIV-AIDS care and systems, must be put on the agenda of any major event, especially during these times in which technologies do let the world shrink.