Considering the Impact of Technology on Society

Moshe Y. Vardi, University Professor at Rice University - Credit: Rice University

Considering the Impact of Technology on Society
Communications of the ACM, March 2023, Vol. 66 No. 3, Pages 100-ff
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By Leah Hoffmann

“Moshe Vardi on having the difficult conversation about technology and social responsibility.”


Moshe Vardi’s horizons are big when it comes to computer science. Celebrated for his contributions to formal methods and computational complexity, he is also well known for his role with ACM, and, in particular, with this publication. Vardi took over as Editor-in-Chief of Communications of the ACM in 2008. Though he stepped down to become a Senior Editor in 2017, he continues to publish regularly on topics from corporate ethics to post-graduate education. Here, he talks about socioeconomics, social media, and the impact of computing on society.


You have spent your career focusing on automated reasoning and logic, but in recent years, it seems like you have been just as active in examining the social implications of technology.


I think we need to learn a bit from the Amish. People think the Amish are anti-technology, but that’s not a nuanced view. The Amish are not anti-technology, they just have a set of values they want to live by. And when a new technology comes in, the council of elders evaluates it and says, “What will be the impact?” I have come to the conclusion that we need to do the same in computing.


That’s not a question most technologists are asking themselves.


How is technology affecting society? It’s a very fundamental question, and we do not think much about it. We are technologists. We enjoy technology, and we get excited by technical challenges. It’s not clear that we can do like the Amish, but we can stop and ask ourselves, “What will be the impact?”


For example, the Amish believe in living in tight communities. With a horse and buggy, you can’t go too far, but with an automobile, you are going to go farther. So, the automobile is out. With a cellphone, people are going to talk to each other. That’s a good thing. So, they have cellphones, but no smartphones and no social media.

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About the Author:

Leah Hoffmann is a technology writer based in Piermont. NY, USA.