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BBC Radio 4:Professor Mona Siddiqui - 13/09/2017

So ten years on from the introduction of the smartphone that has so transformed our culture, yesterday the new iPhone was revealed at the Steve Jobs theatre in California.

But while the phone is the thing we use and get most excited about technology reaches into the most ordinary areas of our lives – it’s the food on our table, the running water in our homes, the car we drive and, increasingly the way we communicate. – technology has for the most part enriched our lives, promised us more time and freedom. But it seems to me that this endless advancement has reached a certain crossroads. Some now advocate that technology should do everything, control everything, recognising that as long as our impulse to consume remains, we will also remain addicted to technological innovation. The tech giants of silicon valley will give us the thing we’re after before we’ve even thought of it; we are mesmerized by this power even as the digital world gradually and stealthily enslaves us to its whims.

The future is often depicted as one where virtual reality, machines and robots may replace much of human activity; a world which both connects and isolates. How then should we make sense of our own future, our seemingly limitless power to create and innovate? Its argued that technological explosion is dehumanizing us as we trade in people for more efficiency, for more profit. The world we are offered is -at least in theory - one where we will have more time, less work but a world where we may end up unable to think for ourselves because technology will think for us.

And yet it seems to me that for all this rapid change, human nature has remained largely constant over time. We laugh, we cry, we search for meaning, for fulfilling relationships, we seek solitude and we crave company – the complexity of our own desires keeps us distinct, moving forward yet always looking inwards. Even as we are tempted by the packaging of a shiny new future, we know that it is the metaphors of our existence which add colour and life to our increasingly flat world of numbers, efficiency and performance.

The algorithm is often described as the new god, the new religion with the prophets of silicon valley promising us the myth of salvation. But like any religion, it’s up to the believers to make of that religion what they will. In calling out to God, we can do immense damage or immense good. We will have to define our own red lines in finding the balance and remember that imagination can be a moral activity - It isn’t simply about the means but also the ends, not just about making things happen but deciding what is worth pursuing, to begin with.

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