THE BLOG

Don't Blame the Messenger

02/17/2015 09:38 am ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015

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What separates the good guys from the bad guys?

Hollywood once made it really easy, because all the good cowboys wore white hats while the bad wore black ones.

I wish it were so easy in our world. And I wish that the answer were technology.

But it just ain't that simple.

Technology in and of itself is just an enabler, a purely neutral enabler with no real flavor or personality that takes on the persona of whatever it is asked to enable, no matter what brand name or label defines it.

Take drones. When Jeff Bezos waxes eloquent about them, it's with visions of happy customers getting quick and reliable delivery. When military forces report on them, it's about "taking out assets" quickly and reliably -- killing enemies without endangering the attackers.

The truth is that it's always been like this. Firecrackers are wonderful for celebrations, lighting the skies with color, sound and motion, but the same core technology is the DNA for most weapons of war.

And on and on -- I'm sure you can think up as many and more than I.

Bottom line: There are no white hats or black hats in the technology itself, as even biotech, which in so many ways is focused on saving the world, is in so many ways focused the other way too.

Once again, it all comes down to people, because when the bad guys get ahold of technology, the enablement that we savor becomes the power that we fear.

As I wrote last week, ISIS and their use of video and other communication techniques is a prime example. Sadly, they released another video this week -- and the analysts are all commenting on the professional quality of the production.

But what inspired me further was an article I read from The New York Times on the use of Twitter by the P.D.R.M., Malaysia's police force.

I think that most of us see Twitter as a tool of a free and democratic society, and when not, as the tool of those fighting for one, the dissenters. Think the original Tahrir Square.

Yet that same technology, that same enablement, can be used to hound down the "dissenters" with an equal if not greater amount of efficiency and power -- greater because the consequences can be so much more serious.

Obviously and clearly, dissent, as the good force, is in the eye of the beholder, but let's agree to agree that for the sake of this discussion it is.

So much like the villains in a James Bond movie or the protagonists of our superhero fantasies, bad guys love to use technology, and because they are not constrained, even the most seemingly benign tech can be turned into weapons of mass destruction. (I'm using that term liberally.)

Therefore it is up to the rest of us to think about what we really are enabled to do, given the amazing technology at our disposal, and to make more and bigger conscious choices to be the good guys, no matter what our hat fashion might be. (I like black cowboy hats, by the way.)

A final thought from an American scientist of the last century, Herbert Simon:

There are no morals about technology at all. Technology expands our ways of thinking about things, expands our ways of doing things. If we're bad people we use technology for bad purposes and if we're good people we use it for good purposes.

And there you have it. As the New York Times article said, "In Malaysia's Twittersphere, the I.G.P. is like a shark in open water -- inspiring fear whenever he comments."

It's up to us, folks. We need to overwhelm the world with good-purposed technology and change it all for the better.

What do you think?