Over the past three decades the rapid rise of personal computers, the internet and mobile phones has led to huge changes in how we work, communicate and learn, which some have dubbed a ‘digital revolution’. But in recent years, as technology’s advanced, these new tools are being increasingly applied in ways they weren’t originally intended. The destabilizing of our democracies, consolidation of power and wealth and the looming threat of AI are all forcing us to rethink our new technologies. There’s been more than 56 mass government surveillance projects and now as technocracy spreads in popularity, countries such as Ecuador, Egypt and India are building out stronger surveillance infrastructure and further normalizing the technology.
The prevalence of technology has been linked to catalyzing wealth consolidation and automation has the potential to further increase inequality. Big Tech’s influence and the power of meta-national companies now rivals that of countries. But in the coming decades as AI creeps closer to human level intelligence, public and private sector collaboration will be pivotal in the evolution of work and humanity. The promise of new innovations such as quantum computing, CRISPR and machine learning could be hugely influential in ending human suffering but will pose serious ethical questions.
The manner of hyper-connectivity that now engulfs our lives offers a worlds worth of information at our finger tips, increasing the already alarming rate of change. Long-term cognitive repercussions of the “Onlife” on the new generation is still unclear but technology is set to redefine every aspect of their life.
Anti-vaccine movements have spread across social media in South East Asia and the United States. The movement in South-East Asia has led to a 50% increase in measles last year as the region has fallen below the World Health Organization’s 95% vaccination line to fully immunize a community. The increase is due to the explosion of false information and mistrust in the scientific establishment.
After false information from WhatsApp triggered a series of lynching’s last year in India, the media company was under pressure to get control of their disinformation problem before the world’s largest democratic election begun. In attempt to quell the problem they created a “Tipline” to collect, verify and study disinformation from the public. A recent study conducted across India found that more than 50% of voters were exposed to fake news stories.
China has gone a long way to normalizing government surveillance by selling complete systems to governments looking to better control their citizens. India’s new legislation starts to lead them down a slippery slope towards an internet framework that restricts freedom of speech, much like that of the Chinese firewall.
China has implemented a social scoring system for each of its citizens, including a range of consequences if their score drops too low. Sanctions can restrict citizens from leaving the country and buying goods and can require community service or charitable donations as repercussions. The CCP says it hopes the program builds “sincerity” and a “harmonious socialist society”.
Since 2016, one in five national elections held worldwide have potentially been influenced by foreign interference according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
AI and Automation
By 2030, companies spending on technology is set to increase by 50% and McKinsey estimates that 20 million to 50 million jobs globally could be created as a result.
Trust and understanding around AI is growing but there’s still a significant amount of people confused about the technology, shown by the 36% of people in McKinsey’s study “mistakenly saying AI was a robot.” Further research showed 73% of respondents in the UK would trust AI to look after elderly but only 19% would trust it with their finances.
McKinsey found that less than five percent of activities can ever be fully automated while 60 percent can be have at least one-third of its activities automated. They also estimate that 15% of all current activities are already automated and predict that by 2030 that number could potentially reach 30% (depending on speed of adoption). But the report also shed light on the global labor trends and industries that are expected to show significant employment growth. Some of the industries with the largest expected growth are;
- The creative industries where China will see an 85% increase in growth, India 58%, Mexico 25% and Germany 17%.
- Employment of technology professionals in India is expected to grow 129% with China and Germany both seeing around 55% growth and the United States around 34%.
- Employment of Care Providers is expected to grow 242% in India, 122% in China and 83% in Mexico.
Teachers will see an increase of 208% in India, 119% in China and 37% in Mexico.
Another study done by a leading AI association at Oxford, the Future of Humanity Institute, found that Americans believe data privacy, cyber-attacks and autonomous weapons will have the largest effect and widest range of impact of all AI’s implications. They also found more than half of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in university researchers and the US military developing AI while only 44% said the same of tech companies (with Facebook ranked the lowest).
New guidelines are being proposed across the world to help ensure that AI is developed in a way that is “human centric”, limiting the unintended consequences of potential arms races and facial recognition tools. Institutions such as the OECD and the EU as well as governments across the world are taking action towards making sure that as AI’s ability grows closer to that of humans, their goals align with ours.
A growing number of prominent members in the scientific and tech community such as physicist Stephen Hawking, astronomer Sir Martin Rees, Elon Musk and Nick Bolstrom have been trying to raise awareness of what Musk says is “our biggest existential threat”Martin Rees (2015, Jan). Martin Rees: Robots can enrich humanity - as long as we can keep them under control
Comparing their revenue to GDP, Big Tech would be among some of the largest countries in the world. Apple would rank 47th in the world, equivalent to the GDP of Portugal. Amazon earned $118 billion in 2017, exceeding the GDP of Kuwait and Alphabet earned more than Puerto Rico at $111 billion.
95% of 15-year old students in OECD countries now have internet access at home and spend more than two hours online after school; this is an increase of 40 minutes since 2012. Children are “connected” in different contexts, not just the home environment.
Another poll has shown that more than 50% of all Americans with smartphones check them multiple times an hour, young people being the worst offenders with that number rising to 70 percent. They found 63% percent of Americans go even further and “can’t bear to part with their mobile gadgets”, keeping them nearby while sleeping at night.
Although data suggests there is growing public ambivalence towards science and technology, outright technophiles and ardent technophobes are still in the minority; most people appreciate the benefits of science and technology while at the same time being wary of the risks.
There will always be resistance to new technologies being imposed on society rather than developed with society in mind. Transparency around the benefits and purpose of any new technology and its potential applications are critical, along with establishing trusted governance systems that can manage any risks effectively.
Reeducation campaigns will be critical in hedging the redistribution of labor in the coming years due to automation. Governments will have to invest now to be able to nurture and take advantage of the growing demand for a technically literate labor force.
It will be increasingly important to communicate the benefits of science and technology to non-specialists in a clear and upfront manner, and without obfuscating any potential risks. This will mean not only ensuring that those involved in research and development have the skills to discuss their work in an easily digestible manner, but also that media properly understands scientific principles and how to report them – something it has arguably struggled with in the case of climate change.
Government must begin to define a new relationship with tech companies as the development of AI will run the risk of transitioning traditional power dynamics.
As deep fakes, hacking and false information becomes more prevalent, action must be taken towards regulating malicious content across the internet in order to preserve harmony and political stability.
Public education that enables citizens to understand and make reasoned judgements about new technologies and scientific developments may also become more of a priority, along with efforts to generate the behavioral change necessary to prevent excessive use of technology in everyday life.
How will governments evolve their policy and technology to control external influences from undermining democratic elections?
How can the general public support and engage in making sure AI is developed from an ethical and “human centric” perspective?
In what ways must Big Tech be modified in order for equality and individual autonomy to be preserved in society?
How can we safe guard the new generation from the unknown long-term consequences of extreme amounts of screen time?
Will countries build a safety net for the transition of labour or leave it to free market to mitigate the potential wave of job loses?