The series finale of HBO’s Silicon Valley may have been considered underwhelming by some but the series left with some extremely relevant questions for the tech world. The moral dilemma has been exhibited deftly as Richard recognises a severe issue with Pied Piper’s decentralized internet innovation, PiperNet. It’s shown that the Pied Piper team ends up building an AI based algorithm so powerful that it’s able to bypass encryption. In general terms it means that they end up building a technological equivalent of Frankenstein (but an extremely intelligent one) that can potentially end the world. The moral ambiguity of the team eventually reaches an end as they decide to publically fail by launching a faulty version of PiperNet and making it look like an extremely bad idea for a business. If it were to happen in the real world, do you think someone would deliberately choose to fail on moral grounds? On contrast, in reality, Companies like Facebook and many others have exploited human brains by making them addictive, in order to raise their engagement levels within their platform, to make more money.
With AI technology advancing at an exponential speed, such a fate may not be too far away. In a world like ours, where technology is becoming more and more intertwined with human life, such a moral crisis is bound to happen. But as sentient beings, we must maintain a higher than usual standard of ethics in technology especially considering the risks that it can pose if left unchecked. As in the case of PiperNet, the underlying algorithm became more intelligent than its creators had predicted. Imagine if in the real world, a technology eventually did become so intelligent that it learnt to decrypt even the most complex encryptions (something that PiperNet could have done in the series, if it wasn’t deliberately made to fail). What could it possibly lead to? Well, at first – end of human supremacy and then, with a domino effect, what not. A technology so advanced would mean that every human being, their digital profile, data and digital security system in the world would be exposed to serious breach and manipulation as it may suit the AI. Threats like these could destroy lives, corporations and governments within days.
I do not want to imply that technology is essentially evil. Everything has vices and virtues but when it comes to technology, the vices must be taken care of first before yielding profits from its virtues (which might in fact be vices in disguise). It’s no more the era where bringing out a new technology is enough in itself. That makes it even more important on the developers’ part to ensure that the technology adheres to high ethical standards.
The need for ethics in technology is growing more than ever but sadly the greed for wealth and recognition is growing as well. Tech giants like Facebook and Google are already able to access user data upto a point where they can influence how humans think behave and react in the world, and still there are no firm directives for tech companies to follow. Ethics form the basic fabric of our society and must not be ignored when it comes to technology. The virtual world needs to be just as much (if not more) ethically sound than the real world. Tech developers and corps across the world must not forget that at the end of the day, technology is just a tool and that’s what it must remain. We have created technologies beyond imagination but we must practice restraint when it comes to empowering it beyond a certain level.
A brainy youth with a weak moral standing can end up creating a Frankenstein-like technology endangering the whole world. If people could learn that righteousness must always precede success and wealth, such a possible havoc can be prevented in future. I firmly believe that it is far better to fail for the greater good than to succeed at the cost of others.