David Weinberger Considers Implications of Technology in Modern World

Author and technologist David Weinberger discussed his latest book, “Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity, and How We’re Thriving in a New World of Possibility,” in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library on Friday, September 27.

Weinberger’s book connects with his work at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, which focuses on the effects that technology has on the ways that humans live and interact with each other and the world.

Weinberger said that while people may intend their inventions to do one thing, they forfeit this control once they make these creations public. According to Weinberger, users are the ones who determine how products will be used. Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, & Library Services, agreed with this point.

“There is a lot of conversation in the tech world in the ethical implications of what people build or create…There really is no way to understand what will be created from [our inventions], so when you create something and have a world, whether it be a new app or what have you, it can spawn [other things]” said Barker.

Weinberger’s talk focused on topics from his book, such as the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning for various tasks. According to his book, the knowledge of how they work is lessening since these tasks can function independent of humans.

In an email to The Phillipian, Weinberger explained that he aimed to show how an increased use of technology has become normalized in everyday life.

“For me, the most rewarding part of writing is taking something ordinary and showing that in fact it’s quite extraordinary. For example, the book looks at the distinction we make between what’s normal and what’s an accident, as if accidents are intrusions into the realm of the normal – the normal is what’s most ‘real,’ and the accidental is just stuff that happens,” wrote Weinberger.

Gayatri Rajan ’22 introduced Weinberger at the talk. She had read his book over the summer after seeing it in a book recommendation list from the NEST.

“I really identified with themes of artificial intelligence, machine learning, but also the philosophy side of those. It’s not just computer science, so that was really cool.” said Rajan.

Although Rajan is familiar with technology, Weinberger’s talk was also able to connect with audience members who did not know much about the subject, according to Adrian Lin ’22.

“As not a technologically oriented person, I learned a lot about deep machine learning and I came to hear the presentation out of curiosity and so I just came not knowing much but I learned a lot. And his presentation, what’s good about it is that it was understandable for someone who knows a lot about technology and someone who’s just a beginner,” said Lin.

His talk allowed for audience members of all technological backgrounds to reflect on the effects of technology in daily life. In an era of fast-growing technology, he asks us to consider these impacts in both personal and societal contexts.

“We humans have used a variety of techniques to manage in a world that is vastly more complex than we can imagine. Now that we have technologies that let us engage with, and benefit from, that complexity, perhaps we are going to learn to embrace that complexity and the particulars and differences that make it meaningful,” wrote Weinberger.