Home/ Opinion / Columns/  Technology has a bright future beyond the clutches of capitalism

2022 was too difficult a year to be optimistic about much in general, and an almost impossible one to be cheerful about technology in particular. Some $30 trillion as wiped out from the stock market, with tech companies as the primary culprit. The tech-heavy Nasdaq is down by a third, and stocks which were long the darlings of investors— Meta, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, Google—are down 30-70% from their highs. Cryptocurrency is staring at an extinction event. Pundits and investors are bemoaning an ‘end of growth’ and a new Dark Age descending on technology. At the end of this gloomy tunnel, however, I see a bright light, the dawn of a new era in a sense. My optimism is not about markets bouncing back to all-time highs, Bitcoin crossing $70,000 again or Apple becoming the first $5 trillion company. Instead, I am hoping this never happens, and this is not the way technology, and its success or failure should ever be measured. Let me explain.

You might also like 

Revved-up services sector can drive inflation out of control

AIMCo, OMERS, Brookfield to invest in Fourth Partner Energy

Airlines have soared but yet to exit turbulence

Senior citizens alert! Rates go up on small savings schemes

We have winnowed down the definition of technology to a very narrow set; in our minds, tech is about AI and robots and self-driving cars and suchlike. It means something much wider than that; its Greek root ‘techne’ means art, skill, craft or the manner by which a thing is gained. In Ancient Greek, it meant ‘knowledge on how to make things’, which included architecture or sculpture. Science, which can be considered the mother of technology, was originally a branch of philosophy. The first scientists (and mathematicians) were natural philosophers. They marvelled at the wonders of nature and sought to explain it through logical and scientific methods. Pythagoras was a philosopher, so was Aryabhata, and so was Bertrand Russell. Along the way, we forgot this link of science and technology to philosophy, and forged too close an association with coding, microchips and the economy.

In the context of this wider definition, 2022 was a splendid year. Early on, we put a telescope the size of a tennis court 2 million miles up in space, and the Webb is now allowing us to peer back nearly 15 billion years to witness the birth of the universe. Physicists and biologists manipulated human cells’ own mRNA protein to thwart the deadliest virus in recent times, and now science is looking to adapt this technology to fight deadlier diseases like cancer. The first credible drug discovery against Alzheimer’s was announced in November. A month later, we had an astonishing announcement of nuclear fusion that gave us hope for unlimited, clean energy. Each of these discoveries, and more, promises a blockbuster 2023 and beyond.

My cause for optimism goes deeper still. There’s a pattern emerging here. The James Webb Telescope was a state funded NASA initiative, and the nuclear fusion breakthrough was accomplished by government scientists at America’s federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. mRNA was finessed by private companies, but it drew on decades of academic research, most notably by Katalin Kariko. Or consider the most ballyhooed tech launch of 2022, ChatGPT. It is created by OpenAI, which was originally structured as a not-for-profit, so that it could focus on long-term contributions to humanity. DeepMind, which has given us astonishing deep-learning gains, most notably predicting how proteins fold, is a research laboratory. While it did turn a profit for the first time in 2021, its focus remains “solving intelligence to advance science and benefit humanity".

This is significant since the primary purpose of science and technology should be to advance humankind, not to be a tool for capitalism to create even more wealth. Our species grew dominant because we had ‘knowledge on how to make things’. There was a selflessness and joy about discovering and creating things, which we seem to have lost along the way as technology got enslaved by our economic model.

Alexander Fleming refused to patent his discovery, penicillin, and saved millions of lives; Volvo likewise for its three-point seat belt, and it saved millions more. Jonas Salk refused to patent the polio vaccine; Tim Berners Lee does not own the World Wide Web. Perhaps this is too hopeful, but in the economic ruins of 2022, I see the hope of technology shaking off capitalism’s yoke. Tesla’s stock might crash and burn, but Elon Musk could turn mobility electric and aid our war against climate change. And amid the wreckage of Twitter and neglect of Facebook, a new kind of social network might emerge—not created purely for usurious profits, but to bring people together in a global town square. As we sift the economic debris of 2022, we should rediscover science and technology as it was meant to be.

Jaspreet Bindra is the founder of Tech Whisperer Ltd, a digital transformation and technology advisory practice.

Elsewhere in Mint

In Opinion, Arjun Malhotra explains why government proposal for joint audits is a bad idea. Aresh Shirali writes on inequities in the age of ageism. Long Story delves into Xi Jinping's compulsions to end zero-covid policy.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Updated: 06 Jan 2023, 09:07 AM IST
Recommended For You
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My Reads Watchlist Feedback Redeem a Gift Card Logout