In the nineties, the pervasive attitude towards playing videogames was like the way in which people viewed television.  They would rot children’s brains.  They would make children act out violent fantasies.  My sister’s orthopedic surgeon suggested to my parents playing videogames might help my sister develop hand eye coordination skills and dexterity. We received a Super Nintendo the following Christmas.

Recently, research has suggested immersive story telling games, like the upcoming Detroit: Become Human, help players develop skills in reading emotions and empathy, like reading fiction. While videogames still have a bad reputation, it would seem they are doing some good in the world by helping children with cognitive and physical disabilities gain necessary skills and helping the world be just a bit more empathetic.  The technology cannot be all bad, right? However, can technology be good? Many people support the idea of Tech For Good, including the biggest technology companies but what does it actually mean.

Ethics and Technology 

Technology, in and of itself, is neutral.  It is neither “good” or “bad” by any philosophical definition.  However, it is how we choose to use technology which confers the moral status.

The above paragraph is incredibly philosophical.  However, the concept requires definition and sometimes it is best to start off at the highest level and work backwards to a workable and practicable definition, with examples.

The British website Tech for Good has the best and most grounded definition, “At its heart, it’s all about people.  People using the power of tech in myriad ways, both simple and extraordinary.”   They provide some high-level examples as their definition continues, “to help redistribute power, give agency to people, help people make more informed decisions, create ways for people to connect, participate, address health or care needs and save energy.”

This broad definition begs the question of what this looks like.

In the real world …

The future is now, at least in the case of super markets.  Carlo Ratti Associati have worked with Coop, in Italy, to develop the super market of the future.  Reflective screens give shoppers information on the origin and methods used to grow their produce, including “the details of its journey to the market,” the Business Insider reported in a January 2017 article Carlo Ratti Associati hope the market will promote more informed consumption habits.

The shelves in the market are lower, intentionally.  “The idea is that, since customers can see into the next aisle, they might strike up a conversation with a stranger,” the Business Insider reportsThe design firm is hoping people will develop new social links in this manner.

aWATTar is a Vienna based agency which provides consumers with information about when the highest levels of renewable energy are in the power grid.  They are hoping through providing consumers with accurate information we can shift the demand and create a greater dependence on renewable energy sources.

Fitness trackers are on the rise.  They help us all make healthier choices in our day to day lives about walking and calorie consumption.  They are good for us and the environment by decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing our dependence on our own two feet.

The Fitbit and Apple Watch can provide accurate, long term information about heart rates to physicians.  There are reports all over the media about how the stored historical data allowed physicians to make a more informed treatment decision, identifying life threatening irregular patterns, and even using the technology in arrhythmia studies.  It also gives patients greater agency in their own care by providing them with useful and timely information.

It is amazing what a little information can do to improve our daily lives and our future.

Photo credit: Lea Fabienne