WHAT IS GOOD ABOUT THE DIRECTION OF TECHNOLOGY?
Technological advances in computer research have made the world better. People can be diagnosed with illnesses quicker, and in the future, body parts could be frequently grown and 3D printed as a result of these innovations. As a result of these technologies, 3D printing will also mean affordable housing can be built, advanced software will live up to its potential to make life easier, motorised transport will become greener and safer, and poor countries are likely to become less poor, due to increases in technological planning and infrastructure.
Assuming that people are essentially morally good (which is probably the case), then technology is a good thing, as it is helping good people make life better and easier for others and themselves. Most negative applications of modern technology are down to misuse by bad people, or human error, rather than good people misusing tools.
This simple idea means that technology is a good thing which can go wrong, rather than the other way around.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
While technology is essentially good, when things go wrong it can be catastrophic. When AI doesn’t work the way it should, or essential systems go down, like the safety features on power stations, or the software that powers essential medical equipment used in hospitals; technology can be seen as doing more harm than good. As technological systems are fitted with fail-safes and programmed to adhere to strict guidelines, things rarely go wrong in a newsworthy sense, but issues do occur and this might always be the case.
This is not a reason to do away with this or that technology, it’s a reason to approach new technologies with caution, ensure they have been thoroughly tested and to continue making improvements. This responsible approach means technology can massively improve our lives while risks are minimised to the point where the good catapults the bad from the scales.
Numerous other risks are being talked about, obviously hacking / data theft, social control, apathy and a lack of face-to-face human interaction are all hot topics – but again these are the result of the users and not the nature of their machines.
An example of this is the recent EU GDPR regulations. These are viewed as very stringent data-processing laws, but despite secure servers being used by companies, the European Union feel the need to implement added protection for data subjects. This is as data can be lost, mishandled or used inappropriately by people; an example of human error rather than technological issues.
Despite rules over data and the use of technology, the risks are very real. There are cases where software has gone down or not worked properly, emergency services have not been contactable for long periods and the accelerators of cars (which use electronic switches) have jammed, leading to fatal accidents.
Some commentators take these fears a step further, predicting a ‘Technological Apocalypse’, in a world where convoluted coding means that if everything is connected; everything can break down.
It’s probably fair to assume that developers are planning for these eventualities, but if they don’t, catastrophe is one rendition of the script. Again, this is not propaganda – it is a call to action for companies without a sensible risk assessment in place.
FAR REACHING CONSEQUENCES
Aside from Skynet-esque AI taking over the world, there are some legitimate fears around technology to consider: The outcome of elections, dystopian levels of monitoring and social control, social credit systems, as well as accidents caused by driverless trains, planes and automobiles - all need to be taken seriously, but that should not stop progress; just plan its route.
Despite this, letting technology flourish means fixing our current issues, then levelling-up to an as before unseen (better) world. While naysayers like Elon Musk may be impressing with his rockets to the moon, it might just be better to focus on the things we can fix on the ground. That’s not to say that Musk and his contemporaries aren’t doing some amazing things, especially with greener transport; it’s just that we need to fix our issues with technology rather than run away from them.
More effective power sources, better designed and insulated houses, medical-robots, improved communications systems, intelligent traffic signs and better tools for organising our lives are all reasons to be really excited about the future of technology and how it can help us.
The outcome of technology and whether we live in a tech-utopia or a tech-dystopia, will be the result of how disciplined we can be with ourselves and, ironically it is being human that poses a threat, not the machines. The recent Facebook data scandal with election research being carried out by Cambridge Analytica illustrates the risks of using big data, and makes Mark Zuckerberg a political figure.
Key tech-leaders need to consider ethics as much as innovation, as the learning stage of technology is passing, so now we need to move forward with a strategy for how the world will look in ten, twenty or a thousand years. We do not know what technology or the world will look like so far ahead, but we can start to decide how it shouldn’t.