It’s a long accepted axiom that the mother of all invention is necessity, that the advent of all technological advancement has its origins not in want, but in need.
It stands to reason, then, that if all invention stems from need—a true need—that all people should at least have access to these advancements, big or small. Yet, as a matter of economics, this rarely, if ever, proves to be the case.
One need look no further than the most entrenched advancement of our lifetimes—namely, the internet—to know this is the case. Despite having been known as the worldwide web for decades, it’s taken just as long for the web to truly stretch around the world. Even given its current reach, it’s still only available to some through publicly funded means. For still others who lack the resources to reach these public hubs, it’s essentially not available at all.
In an era of commodified information, the consequences of this are clear: with access to information intended to be the great equalizer, a lack of access only serves to make some “less equal” than those with constant connectivity.
With increased talk of internet fast lanes and already entrenched data plans that offer heightened accessibility to those who can afford it, the profit motive will only have further deleterious effects on information’s ability to truly become this great equalizer. What’s more, this problem becomes only further exacerbated as instant gratification becomes more, well, instant.
So what are we to do, and how does this figure into the EMPATHY series?
As cited above, public funding for information accessibility and internet-related infrastructure has already been considered, but certainly must become more of a focus going forward. Despite the efforts already made in this area, the relaxation of net neutrality rules—those that govern how or whether internet service providers are able to control information accessibility and to what extent—permits the prioritization of the short-term profit of a few over the greater interest of the many.
Given the FCC’s unabashed deceit regarding these matters, it seems there’s little to be done for now short of cord-cutting, which, by virtue of the necessity of information access, only further alienates oneself from the critical in-group of those that have this resource readily available.
Looking to the future and to the EMPATHY series, I would argue for a more proactive approach in confronting these matters. Why wait for advanced AI, for example, to become deeply rooted in society at large before finding ways to assure its safety and availability?
Granted, it can be difficult to predict which technologies might catch on and when, but it’s important to have these discussions now, discussions like those held between EMPATHY‘s creator, Wyatt Halman, and the government of the society in which he lives: the North American Union.
In Imminent Dawn, it’s established as early as the second chapter that the government seeks unadulterated access to this internet-access brain implant, though in Wyatt’s estimation they’re interested in it only as a weapon of war.
Contrast that with the aims of another character on the EMPATHY research compound, namely one of Wyatt’s sons. His concerns over the equivalent of internet fast lanes and other such nonsense are enough for him to question whether the research ought to even continue until equity of accessibility is guaranteed.
Perhaps this, then, is a lens through which current and future technologies might be viewed in order to guarantee that information access is rightfully treated as a need, not a want, a right, not a privilege. Though this approach, too, has its drawbacks—principally that putting advancement on hold until accessibility concerns are resolved denies everyone access in the meantime—might they not be more equitable than the current system? How far might one be willing to go to find out?
It’s these and similar questions that form the basis for at least one character’s motivations when on the EMPATHY research compound in Imminent Dawn, and to see how they play out you’ll have to get your hands on a copy of the novel and its sequel, Mourning Dove, below.
As you read, it’ll be worth tussling with these questions where our own world’s technologies are concerned. There are no easy answers, but the only way to develop more eloquent solutions is by constantly re-assessing our approaches to the challenges humanity’s limitless curiosity creates.
Note: this article originally debuted in July 2018. It’s been updated and re-released now to reflect the launch of the first two installments of the EMPATHY series.