17 March 2021

Technology today feeds us information that influences what we buy, wear, eat, and drink…

2:00 Min

... But can it affect our perceptions of right or wrong? Juan Enriquez, author of How Technology Transforms Our Ethics, believes it can and prompts us to consider the following ideas.

Technology has already changed our moral understanding

Practices that were considered morally acceptable 300 years ago would fail all ethical standards today. For example, the mistreatment of workers was widely accepted across geographies and cultures for centuries. According to the author, technology played a pivotal role in outlawing poor labour practices by replacing human power with machines. As he notes, a barrel of oil provides the energy equivalent of ten people. This helped improve working conditions and lead to policies that outlaw prolonged working hours.

Progress enables virtuous behaviours

Technology is changing how we morally respond to less-sustainable industries. For example, studies prove that compared to the meat industry, plant-based foods are less taxing on the environment. Yet, most of the world’s population are not vegetarians. “We haven’t had faster, better, or cheaper alternatives to meat, until now,” explains Enriquez. As technology makes synthetic and ethical substitutes more affordable and accessible – with their price having dropped from 380,000 to 9 dollars (per synthetical/vegetarian meat burger) in the last 7 years– more people may prefer to consume them. In the future, this is likely to shake up the meat industry and shift how we morally view the meat-eaters of tomorrow.

The faster the tech growth, the deeper the shift in our moral beliefs

Through our screens, advances in social media are bringing societal polarisations into our living rooms, influencing what we perceive as right or wrong. “We now have direct contact with controversial issues”, argues the author, “which is causing drastic changes of opinion in a short amount of time”. He concludes that humility and forgiveness are necessary to find a middle ground in a time of extremes.