Here is the full transcript of Ruha Benjamin’s talk titled “Is Technology Our Savior — or Our Slayer?” at TED conference.
In her TED talk “Is Technology Our Savior — or Our Slayer?”, sociologist Ruha Benjamin explores the dualistic narratives surrounding technology’s impact on society. She critiques the Silicon Valley vision of a tech-utopia where all desires are instantly met, contrasting it with Hollywood’s dystopian portrayal of technology as humanity’s downfall.
Benjamin introduces the concept of “ustopia,” a blend of utopia and dystopia, emphasizing the role of collective human agency in shaping technological futures. She highlights examples of participatory democracy, like Barcelona’s “Decidim” platform, and community-driven initiatives in Atlanta, underscoring the potential for technology to serve public interests. Ultimately, Benjamin urges a reimagining of our relationship with technology, advocating for a future where it enhances collective well-being rather than exacerbating inequalities.
Listen to the audio version here:
A Lopsided Imagination
This transmission is for future generations. As it stands, a small sliver of humanity is currently imposing their visions on the rest of us. They invest in space travel and AI superintelligence, and underground bunkers, while casting health care and housing for all as outlandish and unimaginable. These futurists let their own imaginations run wild when it comes to bending material and digital realities, but their visions grow limp when it comes to transforming our social reality so that everyone has the chance to live a good and meaningful life.
We are in many ways trapped inside the lopsided imagination of those who monopolize power and resources to benefit the few at the expense of the many. And as I see it, there are two stories these monopolists sell us about what the future holds. The first is the Silicon Valley version, in which all our preferences are tracked and desires catered to. Chatbots, virtual assistants, driverless cars at our beck and call. All our wants and needs met in an instant.
This is their utopia, where technology is our savior, a future where our automated offspring know us better than we know ourselves. Ease and convenience, just a click away. And in their wildest dreams, we merge with technology, optimizing our potential to be stronger, smarter, superhuman.