Luncheon speaker Stephen Talbott spoke to a technology friendly crowd Wednesday. He asked the group to step back from the questions of what can be done and how to do it, and invited us to consider technology in the context of a complex society in which it is likely to have both positive and negative consequences. After citing numerous examples of our "sleepwalking with technology," he proposed a new arena for the privacy discussion. "It's not about the government. It's not about corporations. It's about whether or not we can find it within ourselves to be free." He pointed to the many pessimistic predictions of our future, and argued against this fatalistic approach, saying that the course of events will be of our choosing, and he implored us to choose wisely.
The focus on technology as an end in itself, and not a means to more fundamental human goals, lay to blame for many of the problems he mentioned. "Technology can matter tremendously, but only when you're talking about something else." Talbott did not propose a halt to technological progress, but instead suggested actively engaging our technology and asking why before racing to produce and adopt the newest technology.
Upon opening the floor to questions, it became clear that much of the audience was still skeptical, and others wondered how to apply his advice. By attending this conference, however, the audience demonstrated that they already shared his concerns. We are all concerned about the impending (and existing) negative consequences of technology for freedom and privacy. We have gathered precisely to actively engage technology in light of its social ramifications, in hopes of preventing "sleepwalkers" from walking towards a future in which the human ideals of freedom and privacy fall victim to ever increasing technological capability.