Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke on Monday, Dec. 5, to an audience that had assembled to witness the swearing in of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, of which he is the chairman.
In his speech, Genachowski related thehorrific struggles of his ancestors as they escaped Nazi oppression in Europe at the beginning of World War II. But as moving as his speech was, he also delivered a warning about the misuse of technology today.
Genachowski noted that the Nazis, who at the height of their power during World War II occupied or otherwise controlled most of continental Europe, applied the latest available technology to round up, catalog and exterminate political opponents and ethnic groups that were the focus of their racial hatred, including Jews and Gypsies. While the Germans were well-known for their mastery of technology and industrial efficiency, the fact was that mastery was in itself perverted, Genachowski said.
"The Holocaust proves many sad truths," Genachowski said. "One is that modernity is not an inoculation against genocide. The pillars of modernity-technology and science-are powerful forces. They were perverted for evil by the Nazis, but technology and science are also sources of unlimited hope, opportunity and transformative change."
Genachowski's hope is that these positive aspects of technology and science can be used to fight this perversion. "We must fight so that technology is used to shine a light on oppression and intolerance, to illuminate persecution and dehumanization, to take oppression and mass murder out of the shadows," he added.
If this sounds a lot like the famous Google unofficial motto of "Don't Be Evil," it is. Genachowski is calling for a level of responsibility by people and companies, and for the use of technology to hold accountable those who conduct their business in a way that is evil or exploitive. Sadly, the fear that technology will be used to commit evil acts is well-founded.
Author Edwin Black, who chronicled how Germany used technology to commit genocide, is now researching how this is happening in the present day. Black said he suspects that the fight to prevent the perversion of technology around the world may already be lost.
Black points to tracking technology that will allow anyone with a wireless phone to be located indoors or out and to the vast collection of data that can be mined to find out nearly anything that can be found out about a person.