July 26, 2019

A man works in the quantum computing lab at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (AP file photo)

This blog post was originally published January 18, 2019. 

There has been a continuous problem, dating back to founding of the United States, according to Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard University.

Lepore, the author of “These Truths: A History of the United States,” says Americans have had tremendous faith in the notion that technological innovations could heal our divisions and fix political problems. But that faith has frequently been misplaced or misguided. And ethical conversations around how to keep newspapers, radio, TV and other technologies in check, often come too late.

Three Takeaways:

  • The framers of the Constitution thought of the document itself as a machine, one designed for ultimate political performance, according to Lepore.
  • Throughout U.S. history, there have been high hopes that technology will heal our divisions. The abolitionist Frederick Douglass, for example, believed that photography would allow citizens across the country to see the humanity of black people. Photography, though, wasn’t the game changer Douglass had hoped it would be.
  • Lepore says that many of those who helped commercialize the internet were libertarians, and the structure of our online world reflects that.

More Reading:

politics, Jill Lepore, history, Sci and Tech

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