Is Technology Good, Evil, or Neutral?


Technology is neither good nor evil, it’s the use that crosses the moral boundaries.

As technology is leaping forward an unprecedented pace, this old question is more pressing now than ever. (If you’re short on time skip to the last paragraph for my conclusions)

drevil.jpgIs the TechDoc  Evil?


A review of this debate can be found here including this question:

As we have seen, technology can be neutral, and … “can act as a catalyst to engender trust” … It is also clear that in many situations, technology is certainly not neutral; technology can marginalize people, incite divisiveness, block knowledge flow… Is technology a neutral “tool” that is designed to carry out the will of the user?

Ars technica in a post ipods at war related this debate to the Myth of Icarus.  Unfortunately, their conclusion is so far off the mark.  They claim we are victims of technology that we have become addicted to.  War ravages as the American Army is shaped by video games and movies to kill.  Sorry, folks, the Ozzy Osbourne made me kill myself lawsuit just didn’t hold up.


I really like the inference they make that the Icarus myth is really a story about technology; “when father Daedalus creates the artificial wings for himself and his son, he makes it possible for them to experience something new, but the technology also makes it easy for Icarus to destroy himself.”

ICtforpeace goes on to argue that technology is not morally neutral (and the military is inherently evil).

A Walther PPK would make, I am sure, a pretty good paper-weight, but it was made for a specific purpose and it is rather good when used for its intended purpose, and less elegant when used for others.

They mistakenly suggest

many technologies can be used for both good and bad purposes. But usually neutrality is taken to have a stronger meaning, such as that technologies are equally easy to use for different purposes, which is not helpful when comparing compact disks and cruise missiles.

Philosophical theories on this point can be found on this webpage

Those who believe that technology is neutral argue that “guns don’t kill people, people do”, or that a knife can be used to “cook, kill, or cure.” Those who believe the opposite counter with evidence that technology cannot be evaluated in a vacuum and that there are traits common to all technological developments: (1) technological objects are unique; they are designed to function in a particular and limited way, and (2) technological objects are intertwined with their environment; they interact in unique ways with the rest of reality.

More philosophical musings on the neutrality question can be found here.

I believe in technological neutrality.  While it seems that in some scenarios (such as weapons) technology is clearly more likely to be used in one way rather than another, it is just that particular application of the technology that sets off our reaction.  There is no better example than the work of DARPA which I have written about.  Nuclear technology did not just lead to the bomb it also can be used for medicine and energy.  The knowledge of the technology is not that is evil. 

While many lament the development of expensive military technology I see the beneficial medical applications inherent in these projects.  While one person might see evil and death I can see good and life come from the exact same technologies.  Read about the medical uses of military technology here, here, and here.

As my friend Dr. Rick Satava (surgeon, colonel, and Program Manager at DARPA) said:

Technology is Neutral – it is neither good or evil

It is up to us to breathe the moral and ethical life into these technologies

And then apply them with empathy and compassion for each and every patient

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