Category Archives: Technology

The Pendulum of Being

I stand corrected! The motivation for my past post, “Technology is not the problem. We are.” is such that I’m tired of how technology is the all-too-often/convenient scapegoat for the evils of our world. Swinging the “pendulum of being” in the opposite direction, however, offers a similarly limited and reductionist way of understanding. I’m guilty as charged for taking an overly-simplistic approach to thinking. I’ll try again….

Humans and technology have a very complex and co-constitutive relationship of mutual inter-dependence: as we make our technologies, they then make and shape who we are. We cannot fully understand our selves, others and shared worlds without knowledge of technology. Simultaneously, the more we want to learn about technology, the more we need to understand about being human.

Historically speaking, humans and technologies were generally distinguishable from each other. At present, however, technology is more like an extension of life, and it is far less clear to determine what it means to be human and what it means to be technology. For example, we can make prosthetic arms with skin that is sensitive to touch, we can create life by cloning and genetic manipulation, machines have intelligence, robots have emotions, and I often hear phrases like “all reality is virtual reality,” “I couldn’t live without my <insert technological device>,” “my whole life is on my computer,” and consider the human technology ofglobal consciousness.”

If we think of technology as an extension of life, then this brings forth more questions:

  • Are we human beings or human technologies? Hybrids?
  • Are those with cyborg capabilities the new “survival of the fittest”?
  • Are humans the “old machines” the outdated, unwanted, good-for-nothing technology?
  • Are humans on the trajectory of devolving into the life-sustaining body of technology (which cannot yet reproduced itself)? Our future humanity merely existing as a dispassionate standing reserve of human energy, a meaningless resource just waiting to be technologized?

While humans seem to consistently have the same flaws throughout history, what about the character of technology? Technology’s driving and demanding ways of relentless competition, calculative efficiency and optimized/maximized potential is evolving exponentially, at speeds and scales to the likes of which humans have never ever experienced before…. Our petal-to-the-metal, high-pressured, high-speed way of living reflects the human will to technology (technology fueled by human volition). Consider, for example, how it took several million years from the first chipped stone tool to the smelting of iron. It took just a mere 1000 yearsfrom the first iron to the hydrogen bomb. And in only a few decades, we have created the most energy-dense of all things in the universe (to our current knowledge), the thing that has more energy flowing through it (per gram, per second) than even a star… What is this thing? It’s the PC chip.

Humans (arguably steadfast over time in terms of character strengths and flaws) are part of this technological acceleration, this force that is MUCH greater and MORE dynamic than our species. The rise-progress-disaster-demise of past civilizations serves as a historied projection of the past upon the future, warning that technology is like a dangerous child that the human family has let loose on our planetary home… As the pendulum of being swings, we’re seeing the consequences of human technological evolution all around us. Technology is not the problem. Humans are not the problem. It’s a family matter and the issues are relational. //PJ

Technology is not the problem. We are.

Recently I was interviewed by The Experimental Engagement Manifesto (an investigation into how to motivate, engage and inspire people to do good). One of the questions was: “What surprizes you about people?” The first answer that came to mind was “I’m surprized by how people suffer so much and are unable to be happy.”

Upon second thought, what causes this suffering and lack of happiness? Why are our media full of tragic stories about liars, cheaters, stealers, murderers, corrupters, bullies, and abusers (drugs, sex and other self-destructive habits)? Why can’t we get along with others? Even our own families and friends betray us. Our shared world is full of poverty, AIDS, sickness, self-hatred, anger, hypocrisy, injustice, pollution, garbage…

We are unequivocally out of control. We are putting dangerous demands on all natural systems, especially the air, water, earth and our very being (the elements of life as we know it). How long can this go on before our civilization crashes? The 20th century marks a time of “runaway-train” growth in human desires, human population, human self-centeredness, human addictions, human consumption and human waste… The 21st century marks a “milieu technique,” the digital age, the unleashing of the powerful force of technology upon our people and our planet. Is technology humanity’s saving grace or its suicide machine?

Kevin Kelly is an expert on Technology’s Epic Story. He argues that technology is the cosmic force that gives humanity the potential for difference, diversity, options, choices, opportunities, possibilities and freedoms:

“The origins of technology was not in 1829, but was actually at the beginning of the Big Bang, and at that moment the entire huge billions of stars in the universe were compressed. The entire universe was compressed into a little quantum dot, and it was so tight in there was no room for any difference at all. After the Big Bang, what we have is the potential for differences, diversity, options, choices, opportunities, possibilities and freedoms. Those are all basically the things that technology bring us.”

While Kevin Kelly is enthusiastic about technology, which he defines as an extension of life, others view technology as a death sentence. Technology is, in many ways, today’s convenient scapegoat for human evil and human suffering (kids are playing too many violent video games, grown-ups are manipulated by media, family togetherness has been replaced by the tv, toxic waste is destroying the biosphere, genetically modified foods are causing cancer, etc.). We are scared and we want someone or something to be accountable. We blame technology (digital /nano /cybernetic /information /other) as we are unwilling to blame ourselves for not knowing how to solve our problems and for not knowing how to control ourselves. Technology is not the real source of the world’s suffering. WE ARE. The problem is in us. And thanks to the internet, our problems are staring us right in the face, in full-on illumination, demanding that we notice that which we don’t want to see (problems which were always and already present). Ironically, we want to accuse technology for what it reveals rather than forcing ourselves to contend with what it makes known.

Each time civilization repeats itself, so it is said, the price goes up. All past civilizations wore out their welcome from nature and collapsed (the stone age, bronze age, golden age, iron age and other ages). Maybe the invention of civilization is the problem? In this Digital Age, are we repeating our past patterns of progress, disaster and demise? Is our fate is in our hands, our minds, our hearts or our technologies?

How do we control ourselves, stop human suffering and live happily ever after?


Le Penseur

Ever wonder what technology is thinking? Search Google Images to find:

[Le Penseur 1] “I exist because you made me”

[Le Penseur 2] “I am this space and its metal”

[Le Penseur 3] “I am what I am because of you”

[Le Penseur 4] “I know not of my existence except when you use me”

[Le Penseur 5] “I am here because you need me”

[Le Penseur 6]I am you and you are me”

// Credit to my good friend Barbara C. for textual technological thinking excerpts.

Bushpunk Technology

What happens when technological ingenuity is combined with the enthusiastic do-it-yourself African culture?


Read about the inspired awesomeness of these Bushpunk Technologists:

In this photo: 3 Masters of Innovation & their Inventions

Avatars Fear to Tread

Avatar: what a thought-provoking movie about consciousness, energy, being, believing, seeing, touching… embracing the wilderness of “being-in-creation” and “being-in-the-more-than-human-world.” An Imax 3D experience that juxtaposes human greed and the artifices of techne with nature’s nourishing, all-renewing and all-restoring energies.

The storyline in Avatar is simple, rather the same-old-same-old story of colonization and exploitation that has occurred countless times on earth, and now on the fertile world of Pandora. Pandora is breathtaking with “floating” Hallelujah Mountains, bioluminescence in its flora & fauna, and a collective consciousness existing within the neural network of the forest. The Na’vi, the dominant species, have a radical respect for the equality of all sentient life forms, ecological awareness, spiritual virtues and a deep sacredness. My Avatar does not fear to tread in this elysian mental paradise.

A sad, sad contrast to the hungry, greedy, overpopulated, sick, ambitious and competitive matrix in which humans dwell and where “Angels Fear to Tread” (G. Bateson & M. C. Bateson, 2004, Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred). Why do we suffer so? Why are we unable to live responsibly, compassionately and lovingly? Why do we overfill our hearts and minds with self (and stuff for self) such that we have no room to love anyone/anything else? The seductive entrapments of narcissism, consumerism and hedonism keep us incessantly busy “looking after #1” such that we simply have no time to be still, no desire to listen… and no ability to see.

Upon second thought, we get glimpses of awareness in movies that cost over $300,000,000 to make with a further $150,000,000 for marketing and promotion to ensure that “we see”. With over $2 billion in revenue (so far), Avatar’s commercial success indicates that we are (at least) looking whilst being entertained. Ironically (or tragically) we need theatre tickets, surround sound and 3D glasses “to see” what it means “to be”.

We are one human family living together in a shared earthly home: it’s not mine nor yours, but ours. Mother Nature, Father God, sisters, brothers and sentient others: “I see you.”

Technoethics (TE)

EggRobotoThe growing field of technoethics is based on the premise that it’s of vital importance to encourage dialogue aimed at determining the ethical use of technology, guarding against its misuse, and devising thoughtful principles that help to guide new technological advances for the benefit society in a variety of social contexts and ethical dimensions.

Technoethics is not only an intellectually analytical process, it is also a cultural product with serious implications for understanding some of the “none-too-visible” dimensions of how policies and decisions about technology are made.

Most people agree that technology drives our society, but precious few think about the way that technology changes our society, our morality and our ethical being-in-the-more-than-human-world. Technoethics is an interdisciplinary research area concerned with all moral and ethical aspects of a technological society. Typically, scholars in technoethics have a tendency to theorize technology and ethics as interconnected, co-constitutive and embedded in life and society. As today’s ethical challenges are so great and the dangers of the misuse of technology are so global, entailing a potential catastrophe for all humankind, we need a much higher level of public involvement with diverse perspectives to inform technoethics.

How might we develop a moral compass to use collectively as a gage for ethical thought and technological action, such that we can go forth together as a united human family without getting stuck in political divisions and cultural differences? How might we nurture a holistic and integrative technoethic that values compassion as the key motivation for our technological endeavors, such that our well-being and the well-being of our planet transcends technology’s relentless lust for progress, status, profit and competition? In addition to compassion, I believe that we need awareness of our vulnerability for being misguided in such a rapidly changing technological reality, as well as humility for the fragility of our planet. You might object that values of compassion, humility and vulnerability are unrealistic or of secondary significance, but the earth is our only home and as our human family faces the unknown frontiers of a technological world, what other option do we have?

PJ’s Philosophy of Technoethics:

The more we want to learn about technology,
the more we need to understand about being human.


Heidegger’s Questions Concerning Technology:

In Demythologizing Heidegger, Caputo (1993, p.137) talks about Heidegger’s questioning that is built by thinking and how we must preserve our space for dwelling: “The need for dwelling is not merely that we do not know the essence of dwelling but that we do not know that we do not know, that we do not know that this is necessary, what is needed most of all. What we really lack is thought, not shelter; what we really need to provide for is thinking, not housing… The house that we really lack is the house of being, the home we really need is to make our home in a thoughtful poetic language in which we can ponder the essence of dwelling.”

As Heidegger argues, the Questions Concerning Technology (1977) really matter. The quality of our lives and the very definition of life itself depends upon which questions get asked and who gets to do the answering. If we do not think the questions through ourselves, then (for better or for worse) the answers will be inevitably forced upon us. “But where danger is, grows the saving power also… Heidegger (1977, p.35) believes that the coming to presence of technology holds in itself what we least suspect: the possible arising of its saving power. As we get closer and closer to technology’s danger, the ways into its saving power begin to shine more brightly as we become more questioning. Revealing these questions is the essential nature of technoethics.

TL&T International Conference

Submit your proposals and abstracts! An exciting international conference is advancing upon the horizon…

Culture, Design, Sustainability,
Human Ingenuity

June 17-21, 2010
Vancouver, British Columbia


Technological accomplishments characterize and transform cultures, and yet their relevance is undervalued and their place remains obscure in today’s learning institutions, in government policy, and in the public mind. With implications for culture, design, sustainability, and ingenuity, the conference and exposition explore how technological learning and thinking are celebrated, dismissed, taken for granted, or mystified. What mechanisms work for, or against, the integration of technological learning and thinking in democratic societies? What are their implications for culture, design, sustainability and ingenuity? What is the nature of technological learning and thinking?

The conference organizing committee invites papers that address various dimensions or problems of technological learning and thinking. Scholarship is welcome from across the disciplines including Complexity Science, Design, Engineering, Environmental Studies, Education, History, Indigenous Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology of Technology, and STS. The conference is designed to inspire conversation between the learning and teaching of technology and the cultural, environmental, and social study of technology.

In addition to academic papers, this conference features an exposition of student and professional projects that provide examples of culture, design, sustainability, and human ingenuity at work. The exposition will be held on the last two days (20-21 June 2010) of the conference in a large exhibit hall on the University of British Columbia campus. Projects are welcome from all ages: teachers and professors are especially encouraged to enlist their students in meeting the project challenges and timelines.

Email PJ if you want to discuss your ideas or collaborate, and know that I’m totally interested to hear from you! Visit the conference site for more specific details:

Gaming & Robotics Summer Camp For Youth

Greetings! We are now accepting applications for 101 Technology Fun, a summer research camp for youth to learn how to:

  • design and program robots using Lego Mindstorms NXT and Pico Cricket
  • make computer games and virtual worlds
  • create digital videos and photos
  • be a technology researcher in a groundbreaking UBC study

We welcome ALL youth to apply and no previous experience is necessary. EXTREME FUN is a must!! Registration is complimentary for all selected participants. A delicious lunch and nutritious snacks will be provided daily.

CAMP DATES: July 20-24  –or–  July 27-31 (9am-3pm)

Step 1:
Download this application form
Step 2: Please email your completed application to

FOR MORE INFO: Please view the 101 TECHNOLOGY FUN Information Kit.

AGE 15+ We have an ADVANCED ROBOTIC camp that may interest you.

Please contact Fareed Teja or PJ Rusnak with your questions and/or comments.

Do we want machines making moral decisions?

What are you reading these days? I’m slowly turning the pages of Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right From Wrongby Wendell Wallach & Colin Allen (2009). An excerpt to share:

“Does humanity really want computers making morally important decisions? Many philosophers of technology have warned about humans abdicating responsibility to machines. Movies and magazines are filled with futuristic fantasies regarding the dangers of advanced forms of artificial intelligence. Emerging technologies are always easier to modify before they become entrenched. However it is not often possible to predict accurately the impact of a new technology on society until well after it has been widely adopted. Some critics think, therefore, that we should err on the side of caution, and relinquish the development of potentially dangerous technologies. We believe, however, that market and political forces will prevail and will demand the benefits that these technologies can provide. Thus, it is incumbent upon anyone with a stake in this technology to address head-on the task of implementing moral decision making in computers, robots and virtual bots within computer networks.”

Eeeeeek! Introducing the emerging (and rapidly expanding) field of robot ethics, Wallach & Allen convincingly argue that as robots take on more and more responsibility, they must be programmed with moral responsibility and moral decision-making abilities. The authors think that even if moral agency for machines is a long way away, it is necessary to start building a functional kind of morality in which artificial moral agents possess basic ethical sensitivity (as robots are already engaged in high-risk situations, such as the Predator drones and the more heavily armed Reaper drones now flying in Pakistan).

Yes, we need to examine, design and create more socially engaged robots and machines that are capable of telling right from wrong. However, if today’s ethical theories and human values are not adequate for living well in the world, then there will be subsequent challenges building artificial moral agents to think and act virtuously. For I believe the problem is not with our technology, the problem is with the people using/designing technology.

Despite all of the remarkable achievements of a technologically advanced society, humans are still a conflicting mix of genius/stupidity; love/self-hatred; peace/anger; wealth/poverty; modesty/narcissism; desire/delusion… I have yet to meet someone who has not suffered, who has no problems nor self-destructing habits, who has no worries. Historically speaking, religion has offered The Way, The Truth and The Light for contending with the evils of the human race, the problems of human suffering, and human death. Technology is now beginning to realize the dreams of theology, and I find this spiritually unnerving…

Can we build intelligent machines with a morality that surpasses our flawed human morality? If human-autonomy for robots is possible, should it be allowed? Else, do we want our robots to be forever relegated to a slave morality such that they will never make choices that are harmful to humanity nor threaten human dominion over the world?


Bethinged [bedingt]


Depending on whose numbers you look at, gaming is now a 30 billion dollar industry that is rapidly growing and evolving worldwide. These emergent and pervasive games are not only major cultural forces and ontological worlds that we inhabit, they are also ethical phenomenathat demand our ethical attention and our ethical scrutiny. Some questions that I am thinking about:

  1. What makes games ethical phenomena?
  2. Does the game design process present new ethical issues to be explored and developed?
  3. What kinds of ethical issues and moral responsibilities are raised by gaming technologies?
  4. How can we think about the relationships between games and the good life for individuals as well as for cultural quality more broadly?

Assuming that we come to know ourselves through our experiences, then what might your gaming experiences (or lack thereof) teach you about yourself? What might be revealed about your ethical being-in-the-world in-interaction-with the technological? How are you bethinged by technological things thinging (simultaneously dependent upon, indifferent to, immersed in and inhabited by technology)? 

We are all members of one human family, sharing one fragile home within a vast infinity of technological possibilities. When you rewind back through gaming’s world history, what do you see? Fast forward to the future: will we look back with dignity or with indignity for what gaming technologies are, how they evolved and how we made them to be?