Tech is Neutral

Baruch Gottlieb
3 min readDec 26, 2021

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The “tech is not neutral” argument is a liberal hedge, vaguely Malthusian and reactionary. Tech is neutral, people are not. Now what are you going to do? Please explain why the “tech is not neutral” argument helps effect better policy, or helps anyone understand what tech really is. I see in Kate Crawford’s Atlas of AI the same earnest reckoning of tech’s ills but then a liberal assumption that if we all “know better” about tech’s “predilections” then we will be able to attenuate harms. This specious elision around the problem of the ineluctable profit imperative in “bad tech” is the epitome of liberal critique, radical ineffectual. As if every mom and dad and elementary school teacher, sitting down with the next generations and patiently explaining where tech comes from is going to make them so aware of the terrible trade-offs involved that they will have any determining agency on which tech should or should not be propagated in the world. Andrew Feenberg is banging his head on his desk. This is responsibilizing BS. “We” have known better for generations.. We know that wars are not good, yet we still get wars. It has nothing to do with what educated or informed people think.

Langdon Winner does not say underpasses and tunnels are racist, he shows how racists in urban planning use construction technologies to further their aims.

The scale of the problem indicated by those who dolefully roll out the “technology is not neutral” caveat can only be managed, not at the individual, but at the national level. Because disciplining the tech sector requires the authority to punish offenders, the essential question becomes rather which kind of authoritarianism you want. That of the wanton cynical oligarch class, or, heaven forbid, a “scientific” one run by technicians of state. Only the latter can ensure that any and all knowledge, “data” and technology, including AI is used for the common benefit, if it is deemed necessary to be used at all.

It is legitimate to have concerns about the responsiveness of a centralized government bureaucracy, but especially in the age of climate change the answer is not simply continue down the path of self delusion, blaming “tech”, “consumers” or “big business” in full acquiescence that nothing can or even should be done to discipline any of these. Tech is neutral but avails its possessors of great power. Powerful people need to be disciplined in the common interest. We need to bite the bullet on tech and cop to what really is to be done if we really want to ensure it produces beneficial outcomes.

I fear that those who propagate “tech is not neutral” are too invested in their professional position inside liberal market feudalism to imagine that there can really be technological development which is constrained to serve the common good.

“Thus it comes about, to quote Marx, that machinery becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working-class; that the instruments of labor constantly tear the means of subsistence out of the hands of the laborer; that they very product of the worker is turned into an instrument for his subjugation.” — Engels, Socialism Utopian and Scientific, pt. 3

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