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Don't wait to see if the Vision Pro succeeds
Moral leadership can't afford to be last to the conversation.
I’m writing this less than 48 hours after Apple announced the Vision Pro, an augmented reality computer that you wear on your face like a pair of ski goggles. If it’s hard to picture how this works, Apple put together a helpful little video explaining it.
I don’t have any special insight about whether the technology will succeed or fail. If any company can sell the public on such a device it’s Apple, and they have poured a huge amount of capital into its development. But this is the first time in a while that Apple has created a product that is not a refinement of an existing product (computer/watch/earbuds/etc.), and there are good reasons to think that people won’t want to strap computers to their faces, even if the price drops from its $3,499 starting point.
If you’re a person who offers moral advice—like a religious leader—you might have thoughts about whether you want to live in a world where people where devices like this all day. I personally think there are strong arguments that most people should not use this device, though I’m also curious to try it out and understand it better.
That being said, you might want to wait and see how thinks will shake out before speaking up. After all, who wants to spend political capital on a product that may turn out to be nothing? Why not wait and see if it succeeds?
This is a common and natural line of thinking, but I want to argue that it is very dangerous. If moral leaders always wait until technologies have become ubiquitous before weighing in, they will doom themselves to entering the conversation at exactly the moment when they are least able to effect change. This, in turn, will discourage moral leaders from weighing in on new tech at all—after all, what’s the point in speaking up if it’s a done deal?
The way to solve this problem is to enter the conversation earlier, while the technology is still in development. This doesn’t require any special insider knowledge. Vision Pro, for example, wasn’t a surprise; Apple has been sending signals about it for years, and they have filed several thousand (!) patents in support of the product. Anyone following the industry could have seen this coming, just as they might anticipate that CRISPR babies will likely emerge again.
Entering the conversation earlier gives moral leaders more leverage. Tech companies can adjust their plans much more easily before a product ships, and sometimes they will even can a product entirely if they can’t find a market. Tech companies are also much more likely to be in conversation with people who come out with a product (namely, an idea) that preempts their own. I don’t think I need to make a stronger case than this.
Now, there are a couple of reasons why this doesn’t happen.
Not all religious leaders are clued into tech news.
Some religious leaders worry that talking about emergent tech will make them sound like out of touch nerds who read too much sci-fi.
The first one is harder to solve for because nobody reads all the news. Still, a lot of Jewish leaders are nerds and many of them do follow along with this sort of news. They’re also often in communities with people who can talk to them about such issues if the leaders express interest in getting a heads up.
The second one bother me a lot more. It sounds like sci-fi because we live in a sci-fi world, and there’s a feedback loop between fictional tech and real tech where each informs the other. Though it’s easy to ridicule as being unserious, a focus on the fantastical-seeming world of tomorrow is arguably a mandatory part of being a modern moral leader. It’s certainly a part of being a visionary leader in basically every other industry—and it’s the fuel that spurs innovations like the Vision Pro in the first place. Leaders who think this stuff is too weird to discuss need to un-raise their eyebrows and take the tech future seriously.
The Vision Pro has been announced yet, but it won’t ship for close to a year. Yes, it’s possible that it will die an awkward death because people don’t want to wear computers on their faces, or maybe it just won’t be useful enough to justify the cash outlay. VR/AR devices have certainly failed before (in fact, they have all failed so far). But hoping that the public already knows the right call is exactly the opposite of leadership. Modern moral development requires thinking about tech at the same pace as the tech industry itself. Don’t look at what tech companies shipped yesterday. Look at what they want to ship next year—and next decade. Modern moral leadership demands no less.