The impact of technology

by Saniya More

October 16, 2017

Writer Alex Salkever speaks to students and faculty on advancing technology and the role it plays in society

A photo of Alex Salkever
Alex Salkever spoke as a guest of the Blackstone LaunchPad and the Newhouse School on Sept. 28 Saniya More

Alex Salkever says he believes technology is the solution to many issues the world faces today, but that each new development should be taken with a grain of salt. Technology has many benefits, but according to Salkever, society should thoroughly evaluate new technological tools before making them a huge part of their lives.

The author spoke with students and faculty at the Blackstone LaunchPad Sept. 28. Salkever is co-author, with Vivek Wadhwa, of “The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technological Choices Can Change the Future,” which explores various advancing technologies like genomics, artificial intelligence and sustainable energy.

The event, co-hosted by the Launchpad and the Newhouse School, gave students and faculty the chance to ask Salkever about his book, as well as his presentation. They also had the chance to purchase signed copies of his book.

After the event, student journalist Saniya More sat down with Salkever to ask him some questions about his writing process, as well as his views on journalism and technology.

Tell us about the process of writing this book. What was the hardest part?

The hardest part was staying current, because the things we were writing about were actually changing as we were writing about them. Many things that are in the book are no longer current because technology is moving so quickly. Also, it’s very difficult to thread an argument over such a long arc. It’s something that’s really underrated and difficult to do.

What was it like to collaborate with somebody else?

I was the lead author, and he added injections. It was very collaborative and we mainly did it remotely, mainly through Google docs and other sharing documents. We re-wrote it three or four times to get it right, and to get it to what the publishers want. Vivek Wadhwa is super easy to work with. I like working with other people because it does keep you honest. By the time I finished this book, I couldn’t tell whether it was good or bad or completely unreadable, so having someone else work with you is a good reality check.

What’s the best thing about coming to universities about technology and the potential impacts it can have?

Most people in universities tend to have really open minds, so they’re willing to engage with new ideas—that’s why they’re here. I think you have a pretty good chance of telling them something that they will then research and learn more about. That makes me really happy because I want more people to think about things they wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. University students are curious and engaged, and make for a great audience. They might even be the next great artificial intelligence scientist.

How do you think technology is going to change journalism, communications and the media?

It’s already changing it. Anything that is a simple story based on data will probably be written by a computer, maybe with a human adding simple touches to it. But there’s no reason why a human should write a story off a box score anymore, or an earnings report. There will also be more stories written off of structured data sources, like budgets, crime reports and more. In terms of communications, we are seeing a shift towards more visual streams, particularly images and videos.

Do you have any advice for students who have been raised in this technological world?

I try to teach my kids about what choices they make when they engage with technology. If you spend an hour on Facebook or Snapchat, what is it that you are sacrificing? If you want to be a great writer, does it help you to spend that time on social media? Your time is finite, your attention is finite. I’m not saying these things are bad, because they aren’t. It’s just how you use them and engage with them, and really look at the world in terms of is this a good thing or bad thing for me over time. I encourage everyone in school to take things that are harder than they feel comfortable with, to study subjects that are really difficult, to try things that they don’t think they can do. The cost of failure in school is zero, and you might be surprised at the kinds of things you can do. Doing the comfortable thing is never going to be a good thing in life, and is certainly not a good thing in school.

Saniya More is a junior broadcast and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.