In keeping with the transhumanists' call for responsible moral vision, the IEEE SSIT has been, and will continue to be, a forum where the implications for society of all sorts of technological developments can be debated and evaluated. In a sense, the transhumanist program is the ultimate technological project: to redesign humanity itself to a set of specifications, determined by us. If the transhumanists succeed, technology will become society, and the question of the social implications of technology will be moot (Fig. 29). Perhaps the best attitude to take toward transhumanism is to pay attention to their prophecies, but, as the Old Testament God advised the Hebrews, “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass…the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously…” .
SECTION IX. Ways forward
In sum, identifying and predicting what the social implications of past, present and future technologies might be can lead us to act in one of four ways, which are not mutually exclusive.
First, we can take the “do nothing” approach and meekly accept the risks associated with new techniques. We stop being obsessed by both confirmed and speculative consequences, and instead, try to see how far the new technologies might take us and what we might become or transform into as a result. While humans might not always like change, we are by nature, if we might hijack Heraclitus, in a continual state of flux. We might reach new potentials as a populace, become extremely efficient at doing business with each other, and make a positive impact on our natural environment by doing so. The downside to this approach is that it appears to be an all or nothingapproach with no built-in decision points. for as Jacques Ellul  forewarned: “what is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization.”
The second option is that we let case law determine for us what is legal or illegal based on existing laws, or new or amended laws we might introduce as a result of the new technologies. We can take the stance that the courts are in the best position to decide on what we should and should not do with new technologies. If we break the law in a civil or criminal capacity, then there is a penalty and we have civil and criminal codes concerning workplace surveillance, telecommunications interception and access, surveillance devices, data protection and privacy, cybercrime, and so on. There is also the continual review of existing legislation by law-reform commissions and the like. New legislation can also be introduced to curb against other dangers or harms that might eventuate as a result of the new techniques.
The third option is that we can introduce industry regulations that stipulate how advanced applications should be developed (e.g., ensuring privacy impact assessments are done before commercial applications are launched), and that technical expectations on accuracy, reliability, and storage of data are met. It is also important that the right balance be found between regulations and freedom so as not to stifle the high-tech industry at large.
Finally, the fourth option would be to adopt the “Amish method”: complete abandonment of technology that has progressed beyond a certain point of development. This is in some respect “living off the grid” .
Although obvious, it is important to underline that none of these options are mutually exclusive or foolproof. The final solution may well be at times to introduce industry regulations or codes, at other times to do nothing, and in other cases to rely on legislative amendments despite the length of time it takes to develop these. In other cases, the safeguards may need to be built into the technology itself.
SECTION X. Conclusion
If we put our trust in Kurzweil's  Law of Accelerating Returns, we are likely headed into a great period of discovery unprecedented in any era of history. This being the case, the time for inclusive dialog is now, not after widespread diffusion of such innovations as “always on” cameras, microchip implants, unmanned drones and the like. We stand at a critical moment of decision, as the mythological Pandora did as she was about to open her box. There are many lessons to be learned from history, especially from such radical developments as the atomic bomb and the resulting arms race. Joy  has raised serious fears about continuing unfettered research into “spiritual machines.” Will humans have the foresight to say “no” or “stop” to new innovations that could potentially be a means to a socially destructive scenario? Implants that may prolong life expectancy by hundreds if not thousands of years may appeal at first glance, but they could well create unforeseen devastation in the form of technological viruses, plagues, or a grim escalation in the levels of crime and violence.
To many scientists of the positivist tradition anchored solely to an empirical world view, the notion of whether something is right or wrong is in a way irrelevant. for these researchers, a moral stance has little or nothing to do with technological advancement but is really an ideological position. The extreme of this view is exemplified by an attitude of “let's see how far we can go”, not “is what we are doing the best thing for humanity?” and certainly not by the thought of “what are the long-term implications of what we are doing here?” As an example, one need only consider the mad race to clone the first animal, and many have long suspected an “underground” scientific race continues to clone the first human.
In the current climate of innovation, precisely since the proliferation of the desktop computer and birth of new digital knowledge systems, some observers believe that engineers, and professionals more broadly, lack accountability for the tangible and intangible costs of their actions [174, p. 288]. Because science-enabled engineering has proved so profitable for multinational corporations, they have gone to great lengths to persuade the world that science should not be stopped, for the simple reason that it will always make things better. This ignores the possibility that even seemingly small advancements into the realm of the Electrophorus for any purpose other than medical prostheses will have dire consequences for humanity . According to Kuhns, “Once man has given technique its entry into society, there can be no curbing of its gathering influence, no possible way of forcing it to relinquish its power. Man can only witness and serve as the ironic beneficiary-victim of its power” [176, p. 94].
Clearly, none of the authors of this paper desire to stop technological advance in its tracks. But we believe that considering the social implications of past, present, and future technologies is more than an academic exercise. As custodians of the technical means by which modern society exists and develops, engineers have a unique responsibility to act with forethought and insight. The time when following orders of a superior was all that an engineer had to do is long past. with great power comes great responsibility. Our hope is that the IEEE SSIT will help and encourage engineers worldwide to consider the consequences of their actions throughout the next century.
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Technology forecasting, Social implications of technology, History, Social factors, Human factors, social aspects of automation, human-robot interaction, mobile computing, pervasive computing, IEEE society, social implications of technology, SSIT, society founding, social impacts, military technologies, security technologies, cyborgs, human-machine hybrids, human mind, transhumanist future, humanity redesigns, mobile computing, wearable computing, Überveillance, Corporate activities, engineering education, ethics, future of technology, history,social implications of technology, sociotechnical systems
Citation: Karl D. Stephan, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Laura Jacob, Emily P. Anesta, 2012, "Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future", Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume: 100, Issue: Special Centennial Issue, May 13 2012, 1752-1781. 10.1109/JPROC.2012.2189919