🤖 Questions Concerning Technology

by Asad Rahman

👋🏽 hello world.

If you’re like me, you’re starting to ask big questions concerning technology, and its place in a flourishing life and healthy world.

This space is about those questions.

👨🏽‍💻 about me.

I’m Asad (pronounced us-ud). In my day job, I work with teams trying to make people’s lives better through technology. For the last 8 years, I’ve worked with all sorts of tech, in every continent, with corporates, not-for-profits, governments and startups.

In my spare time, I write about building and using tech, ethically.

You can get to know me more on Twitter. Or write to me on asad@asadrahman.io.

✍🏽 about my writing.

My posts are all less than 10 minutes long, and in plain English. I come with no agenda, and no guarantees that the thinking is perfect or fully formed. But I hope they’ll help you think a bit deeper about the tech you see, or use, or build.

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🔖 things I’ve written.

On meaning and open futures

TL; DR – Doing good with tech, means putting it out into the world as a possibility. For people to take up, adapt, reject. This is the open, free and ambiguous world of Simone de Beauviour, which I try to embody in building and deploying tech.

6 min read | 1,443 words

Africa doesn’t work in sprints

TL; DR – The agile method, born in US software development, optimises for productivity. In Africa, I’ve learnt other values are just as (or more) important when building or testing new tech. Especially: humility, collective action, and skin in the game.

5 min read | 1,313 words

Building backhoes

TL; DR – Backhoes dig trenches, which host cables, which power the internet. Internet speed + reliability can only improve as fast as backhoes can improve (which is slowly and linearly). For the cutting edge of tech to make our lives better, we need to give as much attention and energy to the backhoes: those things out of the limelight, but enabling everything else.

5-min read | 1,208 words

NFTs are good for us

TL; DR – NFTs can build a healthier digital world. They’ll do this by letting us own digital things people have made: giving our lives more meaning and giving us deeper relationships between creators and buyers.

10 min read | 2,449 words

How can I help?

In short, if you want to make people’s lives better through technology, ask yourself three questions: 1/ Are you helping someone who needs it? 2/ Would they prefer to be left alone? 3/ If you want to help, how can you make sure you’re not muscling in against the values they’ve built up for themselves?

7 min read | 1,813 words

Tech, ethics and vaccine passports

In short, a vaccine passport introduced today would give freedom, movement, and agency to those already better off in health and wealth. That makes a fitting symbol of tech’s tendency to make life better for those already have more; it’s tendency to sacrifice equity at the altar of net-positive impact.

4 min read | 921 words

The ethical user interface

In short, the ethical user interface is grounded in a trade off. Give the user enough info and options, so that they keep their autonomy. But don’t throw too much their way, lest they become paralysed by choice.

4 min read | 919 words

On runways, part two

In short, the “build for growth” runway of tech startups could – should – shift to be about building tech for ethical growth. A shift that will change who does the work, what tools they use, and how they measure success.

5 min read | 1,184 words

On runways, part one

In short, the tech startup’s “build for growth” runway has two important lessons for the world of international development. 1) Build not only to serve users today, but to grow who you are able to serve tomorrow. 2) Try non-obvious things, that might impact a lot more people.

5 min read | 1,128 words

Finding plastic water containers

In short, Rsyzard Kapuscinksi writes about how the plastic water container revolutionised rural Africa. It’s one of the mot relatable stories I’ve seen for explaining how tech can make people’s lives better.

4 min read | 962 words

On chatbots and communication

In short, chatbots give us privacy, and convenience. But when we talk to them, we talk in fragments. Short, command and answer statements. And we’re never quite sure what the bot is trying to do. Its incentives are hidden. Added up, I worry they’re moving how humans communicate to a worse place.

5 min read | 1,240 words

What is technology?

In short, there are three building blocks to understanding technology as a concept. #1 is that tech = creation. #2 is that we build it to pursue our lives outside our biology. And #3 is that it shapes us deeply as humans.

5 min read | 1,162 words

On tech and shaping a life (v0.1)

In short, when it’s at its best, tech gives you the power to shape your life, and works with the life you’ve shaped until now. At its worst, tech assumes what life you want to lead. And takes you down paths you can’t see or understand.

5 min read | 1,124 words

On tech and non binary thinking (v0.1)

TL; DR – resist your innate urge to think in black and white, good and bad. One way to do that is to think in values. When you put a technology out into the world: which values is it realising, and which (equally legitimate) values is it taking away? Think in values, and you think in a non-binary way.

5 min read | 1,258 words