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Ethical Innovation: A Conversation Between Yuval Noah Harari and Serhii Plokhy

While proper use of technology can solve global challenges, misuse of technology can have serious repercussions. To learn more about how and why technology can be a double-edged sword, MIT Solve’s Executive Director Alex Amouyel interviewed Yuval Noah Harari, historian, bestselling author, and co-founder of Sapienship, and Serhii Plokhy, director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University.

Technology has helped support positive developments in the last decades: reducing infant mortality rate and extreme poverty, connecting billions to the internet, information exchange, and financial management through smartphones, and more. However, technology is also a source of potential harm and growing inequality, especially when designed without thought to unintended consequences, ethical principles, or the problems facing the most underserved communities.

As Harari puts it, "When you develop a technology, a good exercise is to think of the politician you most fear in the world and to think what he or she will do with the technology [you’re] developing."

Plokhy echoed similar sentiments during the interview stating, “I lived through the fall of the Soviet Union and everyone believed that the end of history will come, also with the help of technology because authoritarian regimes can’t really survive if there are computers and access to the internet. We see today though that they did not just survive, they are doing very well. So the question is, what do we do with the technology that we develop and what is the social responsibility of a scientist, scholar, or an engineer?”

The historians also highlighted the need to decentralize technology to alleviate the current state of inequality, which is at levels unseen since the 19th century. The debate persists—how can we design technology to advance humanity while also protecting it?

The conversation between Harari and Plokhy was shown in a condensed form during the Opening Plenary at Solve at MIT 2022. We hope you enjoy the full interview below.


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