Technology Pendulum

Imagine a paperclip company that is known for creating an artificial superintelligence and that tasks it with an ulterior goal of making as many paperclips as possible.

What happens then? The company’s stock soars and humanity enter the golden era of the paperclip.

But then suddenly something unexpected happens. The AI surveys the natural resources that we need to survive and certainly decides those could go a long way toward paperclip production and manufacture.

This thought experiment coined by Oxford Professor Nick Bostrom details that there is just one potential danger when it comes to creating and harboring artificial superintelligence – that being, we need to be extremely careful with our words.

“I’m very close to the cutting-edge of AI, and it scares the hell out of me”, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, said at SXSW 2018. “It is capable of vastly more than anyone knows, and the rate of improvement is exponential. We must figure out some way to ensure that the advent of digital superintelligence is one that is symbiotic with humanity. I think that’s the single biggest exponential crisis that we face.”

This clearly states the behavioral impact of the technological advances on people. Have you ever lived through technological breakthroughs? You surely must have! – do you remember how it felt? – perhaps we all didn’t feel the tech advancement in the same way and manner, but do you remember how people reacted to Wi-Fi? And what about the first touchscreen phones?

Well just like a pendulum, your answers might straight-up vary, ranging from complete disbelief to love at first sight. That does make sense. Not everyone reacts to the new technology in the same way and oh, well many suffer from Technophobia – where people fear, dislike or completely avoid an upcoming technology.

The rise and evolution of disruptive technologies – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, nanobots, smart prosthetics, Google’s Driverless Cars, and other potentially risk-taking technologies, it’s totally worth looking at this natural process through which we, as humans, accept and adopt the technology.

Google's Driverless Car

Image Source : Google

The Technology Pendulum

An experiential specialist Rolf Nelson introduces a simple image to explain how people react to new technology: the pendulum. According to Nelson, whenever a new technology is introduced, the pendulum swings heavily to one side – at least for some people. Meaning that a lot of people accept and embrace it right out of the gate, some happily adopt it and abuse it to know and understand the benefits of the technological advances and how it would benefit people.

Then there are those who actively reject the technology, swinging the pendulum to the other side. There comes a third group, the ones who wait, simply because they have no clear understanding of the new tech or maybe because they don’t care enough about it anyway.

The whole ideology revolves around the principle of the swinging motion of the pendulum. The pendulum swings back and forth between the two very extremes until it finally settles in its downward position in the median: where all the abuse is done and when people finally understand thought and figure out the new technology and when its users find ways to adapt the new tech into their everyday lives.

Nelson explains this theory by talking about music synthesizers, autotune and smartphones as examples of how the pendulum effect happens. If you see, in all these phenomena, the pendulum theory applies. That’s simply because of the underlying process that leads us through different stages, from discovery to adoption.


There are a lot of research papers and articles that explain this concept in-depth. Among them, the domestication of technology, proposed by Silverstone and Haddon, feels like the perfect way to understand what exactly happens. They basically divide the process into four major steps:

Appropriation: This is the process of owning the product, buying and using the new technology doesn’t imply adopting, just acceptance.

Objectification: This process defines the role/usage of this new technology. This implies the perceived usage on the user’s behalf.

Incorporation: As the name suggests, this is the process of heavily interacting with the product. It means that the user starts to toy around with this new technology, experimenting with the defined roles.

Conversion: This process defines the conversion of the new tech to its intended use. This phase is the adoption when a user already finds a fit for the new tech.

Different people approach technology differently, all the above-mentioned stages happen all the time for different users. Early adopters will certainly reach the “Conversion” stage whilst some laggards might be still struggling to complete accept and adopt the tech. Let me give you an example that can help you understand this.

Driverless Google Cars – Waymo is still being tested today (keeping in mind that there were many failed tests causing mishaps, unfortunately). This means that someday they will be released to the public. Some people have naturally accepted this technology because this group sees autonomous vehicles through a positive lens where they focus on its potentials and benefits that the technology brings. These are early adopters.

However, there are people who just don’t want anything to do with these vehicles. They simply don’t care and are actively against them – they somehow struggle to understand the idea of driverless vehicles becoming mainstream. In the middle are a group of people who know minimal or nothing at all about the tech.

The Human Touch 

The human touch - human interaction with technology

There’s a last piece of the puzzle that seems to be missing here. Since these autonomous vehicles have not been released to the public yet, it seems impossible to know how they might impact our everyday lives. Think about it.

There could be proposed uses of it, say from public transportation to transporting all kinds of cargo stuff. Yet, these proposed uses to forget one very crucial element – what would people do once they’ve already accepted and adopted the technology? This is the fifth stage that’s missing in the loop. That’s the redefinition of the technology when people start heavily interacting with it. The encounter between new technology and its audience creates a new level where the former is redefined.

With the tech creators creating advances in technology with intuitive products and its intended uses, no technology is wholly adopted until it finds its niche. For example, Twitter initially was intended as a microblogging service to share thoughts, views, etc., but it ended up being a news platform. Touchscreen phones started as phones, but in today’s age, they are everything – from a wallet to a watch.

To summarize, the process that takes us from acceptance to early adoption and beyond that is heavily impacted by interaction – the human touch. It’s the human component that brings the unexpected uses of the technology – that swings the pendulum from its apex – until it finds its equilibrium in the downward position.

The story of how the Lumiere brothers scared a filled theatre with people with the movie – “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat” – in 1896. The entire documentary, shot by the finest cinema pioneers, showed a locomotive driving right into the camera, the audience mistook what they saw on screen for the real thing and ran amok the exit. This very interaction is what took people running away from the coming locomotive they saw on screen.

Lumiere brothers

Image Source: Google

Yes, there was an adoption, sure, but there is an evolution too that wouldn’t be possible without the human touch.

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