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​Dr. M. Brian Blake, this year's St. Albert the Great lecturer. (Photo by Amy
Luke '15)

St. Albert Speaker Raises Questions Presented by New Technology

Technology provides great opportunities for our world, such as biometrics and bionic interfaces, but also presents new problems, including cyber infidelity and identity theft, according to Dr. M. Brian Blake of the University of Miami.

The computer scientist made these observations during this year’s St. Albert the Great Lecture on Faith, Reason, and Science at Providence College. Blake addressed the intersections of religion, race, and technology, a topic chosen in conjunction with themes found in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this year’s selection for the Freshman Common Reading Program.

Blake, the vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school at the University of Miami, also holds joint appointments as a professor of computer science and a professor of electrical engineering and computer engineering.

He said access to social media such as Facebook creates a “convergence toward the individual” that makes people more comfortable making statements of faith.

“Individuals find it more comforting to affirm faith because there is now more emphasis on the person,” Blake said.

He added that web technologies create the “ability to affirm your own personal faith in a very personal way.”

“The Internet provides social applications like YouTube and Facebook that allow you to share a message with a large population at a speed and magnitude greater than ever before,” Blake said.

However, these new technologies — and their emphasis on the individual — may lead us to unethical behavior, such as cyber infidelity, cyber sexual addictions, and identity theft related to biometrics, he said.

“The more a person does things that are specific to the individual, the more likely things like this will occur, and how we consider this in our own faith and our own spirituality is very important,” Blake said.

During the question-and-answer period, Rev. Gabriel Pivarnik, O.P., assistant professor of theology and director of the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies, said students in his courses have discussed whether the rise of technology inhibits or enhances one-on-one relationships.

“When it comes to a relationship with God, does technology get in the way of that?” he asked.

“You might say that you can’t have an interaction directly with God, but maybe you have that interaction with someone from the clergy,” he said. “My personal opinion is that information technology is making it easier to understand the big questions by seeing any number of perspectives that surround the issues.”

“As technology advances, it also becomes more and more invasive,” Father Pivarnik said. “I don’t want anyone else to be able to use nanotechnology to analyze what I’m doing. It’s bad enough that you can’t go anywhere on this campus without a camera watching what you do.”

Dr. Stephen J. Mecca, professor of physics, said that part of the problem stems from the fact that these innovations are being driven by technologists.

“Scholars involved in ethics and humanities need to get in front of these questions about how technology is being used and what the potential is for misuse,” he said.

The St. Albert the Great Lecture is one of four talks presented annually by the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies through the generosity of Edward J. Quinn, Jr. ’63 and his wife, Kathleen Reilly Quinn.

— Liz F. Kay


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