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Description: Two recent articles in the New York Times highlight two different aspects of a single phenomenon: we build powerful machines, their capabilities lead to unintended consequences, and they ensnare us in some unforeseen way.


Date: Sept 20, 2011

The first discusses a new technology, an improvement, really, of a technology that’s been under development for a long time: generating meaningful news stories from pure data.

The second concerns the case heading to the Supreme Court pertaining to the matter of state surveillance of individuals using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and how that relates to the 4th Amendment, which in theory enshrines personal privacy against unreasonable search and seizure.

In the first case, computers’ increased capabilities are in the process of taking over a sophisticated task formerly performed by people.  In the second, computers are getting ahead of existing laws and social covenants.

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Questions for discussion:

  1. Which of the two stories of MACHINES GETTING AHEAD OF US do you feel describes a technology leading to the most troubling unintended consequences.  Why?

2.  Can you think of any other technologies that were developed for one purpose and had some unintended consequences either good or bad? Describe.

14 Responses to “When Machines Get Ahead Of Us”

  1. Austen Murray

    The second story leads to the more troubling consequences of technology compared to the first article. Technology is going to replace jobs, its expected and people are going to have to begin to accept. In order to move forward to a better tomorrow we must accept technology, but technology must do so in respect to our basic rights as humans. This is why the second article is more troubling. Everyone has their own personal rights to privacy, this relates to the 4th amendment and such. This was never really a problem before but as technology progresses, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) people’s rights will obviously get squandered if it is misused. However, GPS can be greatly appreciated in respect to catching criminals. As long as it is used for only the best intentions of mankind, then i don’t see an issue for it at all. The internet was developed for one purpose and that was to connect people all over the world. It then involved to something much more than that. Many careers and huge businesses were derived from it, which then generated billions even trillions for the world’s economy. That was the unexpected good that came from the internet, sadly some bad came from the internet as well. This includes a network for criminals to do business and no way of being tracked, scams that try to take people’s money (phishing) and child pornography. There are more but those are some of the main ones that come to a greater concern for me. The internet is a great tool, however if the bad consequences are not maintained then they could soon outweigh the good.

  2. Wale Obateru

    The story I find interesting is that of software’s ability to write news from data. This I find rather disturbing due to the dynamic and volatile nature of news. There is no way a software will accurately gather information across all parts of the world and convert it into news. These softwares cannot replace humans in terms of mobilty (going to the source where these news are) because stories put in the news are not planned for or programmed, they just happen. Another Issue is how the software would be able to differenciate between relevant and irrelevant stories because not every story is news. This is where humans come in, because they are able to edit the stories they hear before converting them into news. An unintended consequence this can lead to could be hackers breaking into these softwares and stopping or disrupting the flow of news by editing or deleting news that they do not want to become public knowledge. They could also include news that may be contradicting. There are also privacy concern issues regarding publishing news of certain people without their consent. There is also a major concern of technolgy leading to people loosing their Jobs, thus increasing the rate of unemployment which can lead to higher crime rates, frustration, and even suicide in some cases. The rate of economic growth also reduces as unemployment incresases.

  3. Kelsey Heather

    Both of the articles present some very interesting issues. There has always been some degree of suspicion to how much of our privacy is being invaded by the government without our permission. However, there has also been a great amount of worry when it comes to whether or not machines will take over our jobs and to what extent they will do so.

    I think that the invasion of privacy and the ability to track movement and voices from people all over the world describes a technology that could present the most trouble. If the government is able to track our movement and conversations, it won’t be long until that information will find its way into the hands of people who will use it for harmful purposes. I don’t think that it is necessarily a terrible thing for law enforcement to use such technology to track criminals and solve crimes. For the people that have done nothing wrong, they won’t have anything to worry about. It is whether or not this highly personal information can remain secure enough so that the wrong people do not gain access to it.

    I also think the idea of technology being able to perform more complex jobs that in many cases require complex thought processes to complete, is somewhat troubling. Machines have already taken over many jobs that require step by step processes such as assembly lines and factory work. But to think that machines are now able to perform a task such as writing an article on a particular topic or issue, is very interesting.

  4. Kelsey K

    Im not sure that it is sensible in any way to say that the development of computers and new technologies doesn’t affect our privacy at all. The development and complete advances in our technological aspects creates a realm of new opportunities and convenient lifestyle options, however, this could be at expense of our privacy. It is insane to think that we live in a world where our every moves, conversations and thoughts are being traced and tracked; however, I’m not sure if it’s an unrealistic statement. It’s scary to think that a little GPS system is able to tell someone everything about us-but it seems as though the technological movement is developing more and more “devices” to conveniently and easily identify us.

  5. Andrew Douglas

    Of the two I would have to say that the GPS monitoring story would be the most troubling, if either are really that troubling at all. As far as journalists possibly losing jobs to computers, it is no different than any other time a job has been automated in the past, and in time (provided the technology takes off) there will just be less people studying to be journalists, and more people studying to be something else. There will be more of a shift in labour, rather than a loss of jobs. Even then, I doubt we will lose journalists all together, as we still have bank tellers after the rise of ATMs, and we still have cashiers after the rise of the self checkout.

    The issue of losing your privacy to a GPS device monitored by the police seems to be a trivial threat at most. This is hardly different than if the officers were to physically follow you and see where you were going, which no one has a problem with. Just instead of physically following you, they are digitally following you, so to speak. Although it may be slightly unnerving to have that feeling of being watched, when it truly comes down to it – and as long as it is people such as law enforcement who are able to employ such devices – as long as you have nothing to hide, you really have no need to be worried.

  6. Sydney D

    I think the second story can become more of a threat later on. People don’t realize that when you’re using a GPS system, you are being tracked. If someone were to pick up on your GPS signal, they can easily find where you are located. Since it is easy for hackers to seek out your personal information, I don’t see why it would be hard for them to find your GPS signal. With this signal, they may be able to see if you’re at home (since they now have your address, phone number, and postal code). If they find that you are not at home (according to your GPS) there is the potential of a robbery-of course worse case scenario. To me, this relates to the new foursquare marketing tool. Although it is harmless in nature, I believe it has the potential to become invading to the privacy of those who choose to use it. The same goes for facebook and the location application. I don’t know about everyone else, but I don’t want everyone knowing where I am at every minute of the day. Overall, the bottom line is that these technologies are becoming an invasion of privacy and are breaking down the walls of security.

  7. adam smith

    The ability to invade ones privacy is wrong and should not be used in any case. The ability to track where we are what we say and things we do is against our rights. I don’t care if they are the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) and say they are going it to monitor threats or follow drug dealers we should have some level of privacy even if having that privacy leads to crime. And if the government can do this think who else may be able to access this information about us.
    I don’t fear that the increase in technology will have an effect on the unemployment rate. I feel it’s a good thing because it will require more skilled labor, so it won’t take away from the size of the work force but it will improve the skill of the work force.
    The fine line rests with what we do with that skilled labor force that technology has built. The jobs that come from monitoring gps location or interpreting conversations and data that go against our privacy and right should not exist and the technology or use of it should not be allowed to happen.

  8. Taylor Elderton

    I believe the technology described with the most unintended consequences would be the speech to text surveillance. While the development of a software that can create news articles out of data would cost a lot of jobs, it would not change things drastically for the majority of people. However; having the ability to monitor what each person is saying through signals, translate it and search it would end up being a huge infraction of an individuals privacy. The reason behind this creation is very noble; finding a potential threat and solving it before it becomes an actual threat. But to give anybody access to a technology that powerful could lead to companies getting their hands on our actual conversations, and it would be a downward spiral from there.

    A very good example of a creation used for an unintended purpose is dynamite. Alfred Nobel created dynamite, which sparked (pun not intended) an explosion at his factory killing five people. He wanted an explosive that could be safely transported and controlled, and the reason for the explosions was purely mining purposes. Although he did figure they would be considered for violent purposes, he was sure that there would be peace between countries because “As soon as men will find that in one instant whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.”. We all know how that went.

  9. Alisha Coate

    I feel that the second story of Machines Getting Ahead of Us describes a technology leading to the most troubling unintended consequences. The use of global positioning systems has become a great asset to the every day person. You can navigate your way around foreign territory, as well as, find that local diner you could not see behind that big oak tree. It is a great invention when used for the intended purposes. When a criminal gets a hold of this technology, this could increase the amount stalkers leading to rapes, murders, and robberies, anything you can think of. But the authorities also have access to these technologies. It is all about being one step ahead of the criminal. You also have to be aware to change your settings on your global positioning system in order for people to be unable to track you. Yes the new smart phones have GPS in them but if you change the settings your phone cannot be tracked.
    Nuclear power was a great invention and could be used to power the future. If it is put into the wrong hands, it could destroy the world. All technology and its usefulness have positives and negatives. You have to determine how valuable that technology is to you.

  10. Lindsay G

    1. Which of the two stories of MACHINES GETTING AHEAD OF US do you feel describes a technology leading to the most troubling unintended consequences. Why?

    I found the speech –to-text technology to be a tad concerning. As with any major technical advance, there will be a loss of jobs on a potentially large scale, both locally and world-wide. This is a sad fact, although I am certain it is a consequence that people are well aware of. I worry that the use of such technology may result in a decrease in literacy. If people are not required to put their thoughts down on paper, this may stunt written culture as a whole. The richness that can be captured by skilled authors and reports would become filtered out, making some reading materials increasingly bland. I highly doubt that speech-to-text technology will have the capabilities to capture some of the verbal devices of the speakers. Use of sarcasm or humour will likely be misrepresented, potentially resulting in severe negative repercussions for the speaker. Although the technology may be useful for basic transcription of discussions, much like the role of a stenographer, I doubt that relying on it as a sole medium for publication would be successful or wise.

  11. Leanne Dalton

    It is inevitable that an increase in technology is going to replace jobs as companies attempt to become more efficient, even in fields such as journalism. The news story that I found more troubling was the article concerning GPS devices. Although I am a big believer of the term “those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing”, I do not think that it is necessary for everyone to have access to this information. If the police or government require monitoring GPS or communication information, I think that it can be useful for providing national security, however knowing that random people could have access to this is a bit troubling. In the case of the news article however, I believe that the police had every right to track and follow the criminal by using GPS. If it leads to catching more criminals, I think that it should be used. However, I do not agree that it should be available for everyone to use. This could definitely cause many problems in the future, including assisting the “bad guys”, as well as endangering innocent people. This article proves that we need to be very careful when purchasing technology (such as cellphones and other GPS-equipped machines), because you never know who will be monitoring you.

  12. edrian suarez

    I believe that the main consequence of internet and technology is the fact that people seem to be getting really lazy as time passes by. We have all this amazing technology, and yet computers have turned into social devices that lead to teenagers posting their personal info online making it really easy for others to access and distribute with no penalties. Children nowadays are not learning how to spell because they use acronyms for almost every word, people don’t write anymore, they blog; Instead of talking, they text; no punctuation, no grammar. Seems like teenagers nowadays use language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than proper English.
    Distraction is also one main consequence of technology, cell phones were designed to communicate with people anywhere in the world, however it now leads to tons of death annually because individuals are now more interested on who is texting or the picture their friend just emailed them, than driving or paying attention to the main activity they are suppose to be focused on.
    I believe all technology brings consequences and sadly some of them cannot be controlled, it all depends on the individual using what is available and how they decide to utilize it.

  13. Kristen Schalin

    I believe both stories are troubling. It is kind of scary that anybody can be tracked through a GPS system. It’s one thing to attach a GPS to someone without their knowledge or without a warrant, legally in cases where the law requires a GPS to tract someone it should be done with a legally and similar to other articles people should have to give authorization for GPS to be used to track their where abouts. It is also troubling that technology is now allowing voices and conversations to be recorded in any language and decoded or translated with the simple touch of a button. This again goes back to the privacy issue. Where are a person’s rights going these days? With the continuous development of new technology a person’s privacy is being invaded more often and seems to be more socially acceptable. As for journalists losing their jobs, it’s not as troubling and people may thing journalists are just one industry, but as technology continues to grow, more industries and jobs could be affected and people will be replaced with machines. For certain jobs machines may not always be the best choice. Machines that replace journalists may not get all the correct details and information required for a proper article. Increasing technology and replacing workers is not always the best choice for a business.

  14. Ivette

    1) In reference to the Wiley IS Weekly Update article “When Machines get Ahead of us”, A characteristic of the machine “phenomenon” is that:
    a) The capabilities of machines lead to unintended consequences
    b) Machines ensnare us in some unforeseen way
    c) We build powerful machines
    d) All of the above

    Answer: d

    2) In reference to the Wiley IS Weekly Update article “When Machines get Ahead of us”, The new technology that has been under development for a long time is :
    a) GPS optimization
    b) Apple’s and Google’s phone
    c) Generating meaningful stories form pure data
    d) Changing the ways in which we look at technology

    Answer: c

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