By Candice Baloyi, South African living in Oslo, and writer at Shifter
The fate of the world is literally dependent on people within the technology community realizing that they are responsible for the progress of the world, writes Shifter’s Candice Baloyi, reporting from the first day of Katapult Future Fest in Oslo.
Technology has been developing over the years in a direction which is mainly to improve business efficiency or to contribute to the empire of tech giants. It is becoming increasingly hard to find a non- superfluous application to this technology outside of these tech havens.
Katapult Future Fest has begun, a two day long conference about impact tech. And I, an unashamed skeptic; a skeptic to the point of being given sit down talks with my parents about how perhaps it was not necessary to be so questioning at school and to let history lessons proceed uninterrupted (and then later encouraged), am impressed to be able to say that I was swayed and intrigued. After listening to the opening speaker Rumman Chowdhury give sentiments like “We’ve shoved this tech into the dichotomy of a zero-sum game”, and “Companies are higher and bigger than governments yet they don’t act like it,”, the itch that has been developing on my mind like the slow rise of chicken pocks since my introduction to the technology scene 3 years ago, was finally scratched. The day is still early however, and the questions of how exactly to reroute the direction of the technological revolution, and how true are the sentiments of all the speakers and participants in this festival, still stand.
The knocking down of individualism is always a slight blow to the ego, but in this case it is a steadying hand to have the illusion that no one else is perturbed by the developments and trajectory of the tech world, wiped away. This morning there is a group of hundreds of people, and people who seemingly have influence and capacity, gathered around the hearth to give testimony and input on this very subject. It is a crisis, and nothing short, that the general public are unaware of (unless they are those who are on the receiving end of this crisis) and tech titans are propelling and capitalizing off of. Technology which has always served to move society forward, answer it’s direct needs and been in the hands of majority of the people has been turned into nothing but the efficiency increaser of small to large companies and stripped of its capacity to be used outside of this role majorly. Sound the alarms, write the scathing reviews, gather the forces. It is a conscious hostage of our future means of production. As Ruman Chowdhury said, people of Silicon Valley and other tech havens were revolutionaries, people of and for the people, yet today they stand knowingly restricting the application and bounds of technology. It is a case and point “Animal Farm”. How long will we continue to be farm animals led by pigs now wearing their master’s clothing.
I may sound alarmist, but beyond the walls of a society like Oslo, where it is so small that the applications of tech seem to reach most corners of it, it is very easy to be quickly disenchanted. In any larger society, actually, it is easy to identify that the mass of technology is quickly debilitated when not in a vaguely modern setting. Looking at a township in South Africa, there are a million things which need to be done, but thinking about the technology available or being created I cannot see how most of these can be used to solve anything. A fancy system of bike deliveries of some good, a peer-to-peer something and even more complex technology like data processors, AI and block chain seem to have scarce real application to these impoverished areas. Technology which can solve some of the problems in these areas directly, which is conceived thinking to target poverty and it’s byproducts is not in our frame of mind. It is unconceived, we have rather adopted empire building technology and try to make adjustments to this to apply it to harsher circumstances. Developments in medicine, farming and other old institutions may stand independent of this. The problem is much deeper than what we think. Technology has been developing over the years in a direction which is mainly to improve business efficiency or to contribute to the empire of tech giants. It is becoming increasingly hard to find a non- superfluous application to this technology outside of these tech havens. And no one is trying to.
At least these were my defeatist sentiments before the opening speeches of Katapult Future Fest. The sun is shining, tents are up and large amounts of people are sitting and walking around, listening to talks. The sun is shining and people in Oslo are joyous but I hope there is anger and urgency within the talks conspiring, and I hope it will be more than interesting conversations which result from this festival, because the fate of the world is literally dependent on people within the technology community realizing that they are responsible for the progress of the world, that it has been and they have allowed it to be ripped from their hands, and that they need to regroup and take it back.