Technology Impacts on Self-Determination

One of the basic principles of America democracy is the belief in self-determination. Every person, no matter their birth status, should have the right to achieve their own plan in life. Harry Radcliff was a role model for self-determination. Born to parents without college educations, he had a strong desire to be successful. He worked hard to help his parents afford to send him to college. Coming from a depression era family, he became a very responsible manager of his personal resources.

Harry believed in investing for the future. He maxed out his 401(k) contributions. He did very little borrowing, paid off his house mortgage early, and began to invest in the stock market as his earnings increased. As Harry’s family transitioned to a third generation, he began to set aside money for his grandchildren.

As Harry reflected back on his financial journey, he recalled a time in his 20’s, when his sole worth was a quarter. While he never made a huge salary, he had accumulated personal assets in excess of $7,000,000. Harry was very proud of how he had provided for his family. But he was also deeply concerned for the future, both for him and his family and for the nation as a whole. It seemed that opportunities for personal financial growth were becoming less open to citizens like him.

Much of Harry’s personal wealth generation was wise investing in the stock market. This was also the case for many of his friends who came from similar personal backgrounds. What he was concerned about was the intrusion of technology into investing. The stock market was increasingly being influenced by high-frequency trading (HFT). HFT was a technology driven trading approach where trades were generated by algorithms. HFT had the potential to manipulate the market by buying and selling literally within seconds of each other. What made HFT undemocratic was just a few investors had access to HFT.  These few investors and their HFT trades were an increasing percentage of the total trading volume.  Citizen investors, like Harry, began to lose trust in the market.

If citizens didn’t trust the market, as a way to provide for their family’s future, they also would lose faith in the concept of self-determination. America needs ways for citizens to raise their positions in life. While technologies like HFT may be a play thing for the already rich, such technologies can create distrust for average citizens.

Just imagine how the societal impact of technology can be evaluated prior to its use? Just imagine the criteria that might be used to restrict of limit the use of a technology based upon its societal impact? Just imagine how we might incorporate societal values into the design of new technologies.

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“The American dream comes from opportunity. The opportunity comes from our founding principles, or core values that’s held together and protected by the Constitution. Those ideas are neither Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, white, or black. Those are American ideologies.”  – Tod Yoho (Member of Congress)

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