In answering the the question “‘Has the restoration of the science and arts tended to purify morals?’”, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau changes the questions to
“‘Has the restoration of the Sciences and Arts tended to purify or corrupt Morals?’”
This question was posed in the 18th century, that's before the first light bulb was invented, the telegraph, paint tubes, a sewing machine… (PBS, n.d.). Using those examples, that was before the ability to read after dark, send and receive messages over long distances, store paint and use it at a moments notice, and go beyond stitching for warmth and rather sewing for fashion. Technological innovations are coming in faster and faster, and due to their ability to make life easier, more interesting, and whatever other positive term that can describe its implications, arguments on its negative attributes have also changed over time to suit these changes. Critics and critical theorists have continued to add to the discourse Rousseau helped begin. 20th century theorist Neil Postman continues on this discussion by addressing the negative implications of the belief; “on the wings of technology… we will find happiness” (Vuur Van De Wolf, 2014).
To continue on this discussion I will attempt to answer it through creative means. There seemed no better way to understand the implications of technology on human ideals of morality than AI itself. A fairly new tool on the internet has emerged where users can use text and sometimes a selection of images and design styles to prompt an artwork to be generated by AI. After trying out a few versions from different developers I settled on the site NightCafe. When thinking of prompts to show my opinion/understanding of technologies implications, I came up with
“Elon Musk dancing in space”
and used the preset style ‘Fantasy’. This produced a fantastic piece of work in my opinion, see Figure 1. I particularly liked how his face and half of his body is starting to melt away, as if space is consuming him. I chose Musk because he is a leading innovator in his field, but also a celebrity. We have seen him in some odd lights; trying to buy Twitter to save free speech, his opposition to unions, the various broken promises he proclaims, as well as the various odd tweets he puts out, etc (Peyser, 2022). The internet (with the help of the man himself) has unmasked the elite and it is intriguing to watch as his opinions and personal life unfold for all of us to see. It is almost like he is now a malleable product, no longer a man inventing new technologies to help push us into the next round of technological revolution. Instead he is a personality, a person - as opposed to a cartoon drawing of an overweight man sitting on a pile of gold - onto which we can point the finger at and blame and/or laugh. In this case, it could be argued that technological innovations have corrupted Musk’s morals due to the power and wealth he has amassed as an innovator.
Figure 1. "Elon Musk Dancing in Space" - AI creates with text prompt.
I also chose Musk dancing in space because of arguments I sometimes see online or hear from peers where his financial decisions are concerned. When Musk made a substantial investment into space exploration, people commented that ‘he should be putting money towards solving the problems of climate change’, the same thing was proposed in regards to world hunger (Levin, 2022). However, the current governmental agenda pushes the ideologies of a capitalist society in which oligarchs have a firm grip over societal status quos. Therefore, Musk is free to invest his money wherever he sees fit; I tried to reflect this freedom through Musk dancing in space. This is a potential concern as major powers look towards a future where the colonisation of planets is a real possibility. Musk as a potential gatekeeper of space exploration poses moral dilemmas as Musk can shape the future in his image.
Black, J.J.S. (2019). The discourse on the sciences and arts. In E. Grace, & C. Kelly (Eds), The Rousseauian mind (pp. 155-164). Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge.
Levin, B. (2022, April 26). A reminder of just some of the terrible things Elon Musk has said and done. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/04/elon-musk-twitter-terrible-things-hes-said-and-done
PBS. (n.d.). Technology Timeline (1752-1990). https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/telephone-technology-timeline/
Peyser, E. (2022 April 30). 11 weird and upsetting facts about Elon Musk. Intelligencer. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/04/11-weird-and-upsetting-facts-about-elon-musk.html
Vurr Van De Wolf. (2014, June 28). Neil Postman Open Mind : Informing Ourselves to Death (shortened edit) [online video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ApPkTvQ4QM