Technology IS value-neutral

I happened to read this blog post by Alex Payne (CTO of BankSimple who formerly has worked with Twitter) that has his opinion on what Alec Ross, a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton said on Technology.

Alec Ross said,

[t]echnology itself is value-neutral. It depends on how a government chooses to use these technologies.

Mr. Ross said this in the context of US companies selling invasive technologies to repressive regimes. Quite obviously, that is a statesman unsuccessfully trying to defend the state’s wrong political strategies. It needs to be countered of course, but carefully or else they would get away with it. Alex in an attempt to counter Mr. Ross does that for all the wrong reasons.

I think we cannot entirely rule out what Mr. Ross said. First, you have to clearly define what technology is. Is it the raw idea/material used to implement/create a strategy/product? Or is it the end product itself that you call technology? If you are referring to the raw material/idea by “technology”, I think Mr. Ross is right. Only that he should have replaced the word “government” in his statement with “creators” or “people”. The raw idea that technology is is value-neutral until you intentionally use it to design specific products at which point you can argue about it’s neutral position.

Ironically, Alex’s reasons to call it value-centric itself proves he is wrong – “Technology is made of people” – made of “People”. Not “good people” or “bad people”. And the next – “Technology Values What People Value” – exactly my point.

And on that basis, I think the following definitions that Alex found for “technology” is fallible because, well, technology is value-neutral.

  • The process of human beings inventing tools that improve (?) our quality of life.
  • A particular tool from the above category
  • An industry or amalgamation of industries producing said tools
  • Dehumanization (only people who think technology is all about giant robots invading earth would say this)
  • Progress (not necessarily be. destructive technology could lead to regress)

And only two from his list seems to be proper definitions:

  • The future
  • Change

I think It is not the mere word of “technology” that Alex should have focused on if he was worried about how politicians or governments manipulate the technology in their own interest. He should have rather focused on the policies and strategies of governments to counter what Mr. Ross said. And the criticism should have seriously woven in those lines to make an effective counter argument.