by Marion Marks
Many of the technological advances I read about always make me think about the historical advances Henry Ford brought to modern industry. Ford believed that a good business makes “excellent products and earns a healthy return.” But Ford proved a Great business does all that while creating a better world! Innovation, Ford style, drives businesses to bring to market products that provide solutions to customer needs as well as solutions in the way those who view the product see changing the environment. This was true for users of Ford’s innovations and the way that his innovations were viewed by non-users.
Henry Ford aspired to be more than just a car company, he forcefully injected his philosophy into the lives of all employees and customers, often with an “in your face” gusto! Clearly, selling cars became secondary to Ford after he became financially independent. That’s corporate reinvention for most entrepreneurs who are forced to focus on making payroll and keeping the doors open.
Although many companies advertise “benevolence above profit,” Ford’s current mission statement at least aspires to something more specific and measurable than “Don’t be evil!” Cars still contribute to pollution and congestion and often, due to poor engineering or the rush for profit, do kill innocent people. Ford and other automakers do succeed at automating transportation, create a safer technology, and make it easier to live in densely populated areas. Yet the benefits to greater society are often difficult to measure.
Alleged pro-social innovation is all too often market-speak for “Profitable Developments!” The concept of automation is always alluring, yet the net cost to society, the loss of individuality, is often an immeasurable consequence of advancements. There’s something quite sinister about developments that are all sizzle and no steak! Do we really need our homes, automobiles and very beings to become databases for industrial marketing? Cloud service providers love to tout that they can turn off the lights and adjust the cooling or heating from afar, but access to this data seems to be more than creepy. We underestimate the real cost to privacy and long-term security.
Sensors and services that watch over us are being developed and offered as life-simplifying features and services to save us from even thinking. And, there’s something to be said for smartphone-driven home security without a monthly monitoring fee. Yet the data generated by access to our personal data seems to ever creep into our inner souls.
In George Orwell’s 1984, it is written, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” Your imagination begins to wander if you envision some scenes of futuristic horrors based on intimate knowledge garnered by data harvesters. Yes, we have some inspired hope and a few laughs reading some of the new “Life-saving technologies based on personal data.” Glimpses of what the future will bring become double-edged swords with individual risks at each new door.