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Ten years ago, the world marveled at the ability of social media technology to assist an entire region in its pursuit of democracy. As I write this column days after the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, the world this time is overwhelmingly appalled by the role that same technology played in a violent attempt to overturn democracy. Those who decried the shutdown of access to social media desperately implemented by authoritarian regimes applauded similar restrictions implemented by tech companies in a quest to forestall additional violence. In between the attack on the Capitol on 6 January and the inauguration on 20 January, a historic event provided us with another stark reminder of the great power of technology. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights. These flights will operate with no hands-on piloting or direct observation by humans. As automation extends to other means of transportation, it will inevitably accelerate disruptions in the workplace, potentially leaving large swaths of the human population behind.
Any keen observer of these events, and a slew of other similar events in the past months and years, will recognize the relevance of a sentence written by the Comité de Salut Public and addressed to the members of the French National Convention in 1793: “Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir,” which translates to “They [the Representatives] must contemplate that a great responsibility is the inseparable result of a great power.” This same principle appears in many other writings after the French Revolution. In fact, it was popularized by the Spider-Man comic books in the form of the proverb, “With great power comes great responsibility.”