wither the expert

An interesting piece in Wired talking about the concept of “expertise” and how no one can really be a “tech expert.” At the heart of this is complexity. The author posits that given the incredible complexity of our technologically-driven world, no one person can understand and be considered an “expert.” We do live in an ever-more complex world, and part of the reason Pardee RAND Tech Stream and the TNL exist is to try and work through the intersection of emerging technology and policy.

In some ways this dynamic isn’t new. Each era has seen increasing complexity, and no doubt some looked around and said, “no one can understand all this!” Digital has certainly changed the game, and the scope of our complexity is far beyond previous generations. That said, these same capabilities that drive the complexity can be leveraged to try and understand what is going on (e.g. AI). But only if the development is thoughtful and includes ethical and justice/equity concerns.

While technology is agnostic, the applications of it are not. As the Wired article notes, government has a history of regulating things that they don’t necessarily understand. But that lack of understanding was around the technical details, and the implications of the tech was easier to parse. This is the second half of how the intersection of tech and policy needs to play out. Technologists – those who are creating the capabilities – need to consider the implications of their work and be able to articulate it to non-experts (e.g. policy makers). And in concert, policy makers need to spin up their knowledge of the applications and implications of technology.

Can any one person fully grok the whole system? No, but that doesn’t mean we don’t work to make evidence-based decisions and continue to educate ourselves about the impact of emerging tech – both intended and unintended consequences. No one gets a pass – the technologists need to own the implications and be part of the solution, and government needs to step up the level of technical literacy. And both need to work towards being able to articulate their assumptions, needs and understanding of the issues. Narrative matters…

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