Academic Minute Podcast

Mahak Nagpal, University of St. Thomas – Technosolutionism

Studio portrait of Mahak Nagpal taken on October 11, 2023, in St. Paul.

On University of St. Thomas Week: Not everything needs a technological solution.

Mahak Nagpal, assistant professor of ethics & business law and the Opus College of Business, says sometimes a human solution should come first.

Dr. Mahak Nagpal is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business. She holds a Ph.D. in Organization Management and Business Ethics from Rutgers Business School. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of St. Thomas, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center on AI Technology for Humankind.

Her academic research considers the ethical implications of how employees, organizations, and society will ultimately use or interact with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their everyday lives. In 2024, she was featured on the 100 Brilliant Woman in AI Ethics list.

Technosolutionism

Around us, there is a growing rise in the rhetoric that Artificial Intelligence or AI can solve complex societal problems in unique ways. This belief has even been articulated by renowned technologists, such as Mark Zuckerberg, who believe that AI will solve society’s most difficult problems.

My research examines the consequences of this belief. More specifically, in what ways might we be overestimating the potential of AI, particularly to the detriment of human capabilities or ingenuities. While AI may bring many benefits in certain contexts, have we gone too far to the point where we are now overestimating the capabilities of AI, without realizing that in doing so, we may be harming ourselves?

Organizational decision-makers that have such preferences for technological solutions are described to have technosolutionistic attitudes. Such attitudes have important implications for how and who gets work done. Preferences for AI adoption come at a cost, that of the quality and quantity of jobs available to humans. To avoid such negative outcomes, we need to ensure that when it comes to the development and adoption of new technologies, technology is not viewed as the only, or even a uniquely placed solution to problems. A more sustainable business model is one where non-technological interventions are explored before deciding upon technological solutions.

Before implementing technological solutions, we should ask, is the problem that we are seeking to resolve, a technical problem to begin with? Or is it a broader social or cultural problem? Recognizing the benefits that technology can provide, while having a healthy understanding of its inherent limitations is key to being able to use technology as a force for realistic good.

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