As we continue forth into an economy based more and more on market principles, interesting questions arise. Part of the issue is technology. Technological innovations have enabled the market to invade every part of our lives like never before. But another part of the issue is that many believe the market to be amoral. True market interactions are between two consulting parties. But is that really true?
In my mind, the creative people moving the market and technology forward should be asking the big, philosophical questions shaping our society as we advance into a more market based morality.
A couple of years back, Michael Sandel wrote, What Markets Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. It’s a fascinating look into what can actually be bought and sold today. As a consequence of market based pressures, many of the morays of old seem to be fading into the past. Thusly, a lot of interesting ethical questions arise. Here are a few.
- Should we teach our children to break in line? The market believes line-breaking is moral. First class flyers go straight to the front of the line at airports, past all the poor folk. Most amusement parks offer fastpass tickets.
- Should we profit from the deaths of others? The market believes yes and no on this one. Companies now carry life insurance on low level employees. Essentially, they think blue collar workers won’t live that long. Oh, the beneficiary is the company, not the employee’s families. In a failed attempt, the defense department once proposed a website to for gambling on which world leaders would be killed first. Dubbed the “terrorism futures market,” it would have essentially crowdsourced certain analytics pertaining to world stability. This could have saved money and improved global insight.
- Should justice be equal for the rich and poor? We all know that has never been the case.
And how invasive should we allow our technology to become? According to Clark Howard, Microsoft’s Bing app agreement allows the following.
- Record audio from your phone at any time without your prior knowledge
- Add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without your knowledge
- Add, remove, or change events
- Read stuff that’s on your phone in many different ways
So as we look to the future, we should have this conversation. And those creating the innovations of tomorrow should be thinking about how invasive we want market mechanisms and technology. What should we monitor and what is off limits. I’d bet nothing will be off limits in the future.
So when does technology make a person not themselves—after a heart transplant, arm transplant, brain transplant, or head transplant? Do cyborgs have rights, and what about robots? I’ve shown this video of the Big Dog robot to a lot of people. Often times they express empathy for the robot, especially when it is kicked.
The matrix always seemed like a Sci-Fi fantasy. But really, it’s not that far away. Ask the big questions now.