When singularity takes place, the distinction between the physical world and virtual technology has been overcome (ibid.).
Yet, will our technology future be a utopia or dystopia realized? What can we learn from current cutting-edge innovations about what could be possible in the future? This blog post discusses some promising and worrying trends with examples of existing technology and points to some governance challenges that might be ahead of us.
Ingenious Innovations: Future Potential
Technology has long been associated with progress and prosperity. From the emergence of technology, as we now know it, it has been given a reputation of inherent good and a catalyst for change. Different innovations, from quantum computing to health technology, have shown the potential for a better future, thanks to tech:
Is AI Intelligent?
One of the most talked-about innovations is the potential Artificial Intelligence (AI). When we look at AI technologies, there are many aspects to observe. Is it a wealth of knowledge? Or is it the way that AI relates to human emotions? Genuine AI should fall somewhere in the middle. In a research project done by Dr. Ayanna Howard, her team created an AI bot that mimics human emotion to help autistic children work through their emotions in an educational capacity. Dr. Howard built these bots to relate to the human conscience, a part of AI still being developed daily. We see these technologies in futuristic films such as Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams, and this technology is assumed to be on the brink of a breakthrough. If these technologies continue to advance, we could see progressive changes concerning global policies and humanitarian actions. (Amy-Vogt, 2019.)
Social media, Ethnicity, and Race
As social media and digital citizenship continue to be at the forefront of news media and legislation, users and big businesses will likely operate on a more even playing field. Social media and its natural tendency to drive forward creators in terms of popularity and unusual access. According to Future of Media, authors of color have difficulty getting agents and, therefore, a lack of diversity in publications. Improvement of the media landscape could result in an alternative way to be found in the publication industry compared to today. Scouts can scour the internet for future bestsellers and award-winning publishers. Because the media industry is shifting in unclear ways to the average citizen and legislators alike, there is no guarantee that the possibilities and reach of future social media platforms will operate this way or allow hands-off creative expression as we anticipate. Publishing companies and authors alike must find new ways to find each other and tap into undiscovered audiences. This has the potential to be a successful approach.
Future forward technology in security is building adaptive security architecture into organizations. This will replace the previous “prevent and detect” measures for cyber security. Instead, organizations will establish a “security data warehouse” that can run “advanced security analytics” (Gartner, 2017). Due to the digital world, “prevent and detect” methods are becoming obsolete for monitoring cyber-attacks. AI can assist in security data warehouses to monitor past and current data for prevention.
Mis- and disinformation
In recent years, there have been many concerns and allegations related to “Fake news” and “false advertising” about different types of information that have been published on digital media platforms. From disinformation about how COVID-19 emerged to the UK’s tabloids on Brexit, these digital sources have had effects in our past that have led to the importance of differentiating which information is true and false (Fenton, 2022). For the future of media, I believe that we are expected to see more traditional media sources turn more to the digital space than they already may be and place a stronger emphasis on having stronger sources of information that they are reporting on to give a more accurate story.
Tech for Mental Health
A future-forward technology in mental health would predict mental health-related criminal activity and replace police and social worker interventions. The AI would need to be trained in social-emotional learning best practices and research to deescalate the situation and/or provide memories or words that would trigger positive responses in the human. AI is already being used by therapists to sift through large amounts of data to identify family histories, patient behaviors, and responses to prior treatments, make a more precise diagnosis and make more insightful decisions about treatment and choice of therapist. (Bateman, 2021)
AI technologies have been functioning as communicators through which people communicate with one another. Not only do they work as the means to exchange the messages, but also they learn about human communication and adjust interactions accordingly by using natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG) (Guzman et al., 2019). Such as Amazon’s Alexa, these technologies understand human language as it is spoken and written. Further, these technological innovations will open up new opportunities in counseling and psychotherapy. One of the most important aspects of positive mental health outcomes is counselors’ ability to engage in constructive problem-solving. By collecting quantitative evidence for effective conversation strategies, technology-mediated counseling will increase conversation quality, eventually leading to positive outcomes in society (Althoff et al., 2016).
The world was catapulted into reliance on the internet and connectivity more than ever before in 2020, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. This resulted in the revelation that a significant amount of the world’s population was disconnected without reliable or any internet access. A revolution that is being worked on currently is the Starlink. Starlink boasts of using advanced satellites in a low orbit; Starlink enables video calls, online gaming, streaming, and other high data rate activities that historically have not been possible with satellite internet. The new technology also promises to allow access to areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable. “People across the globe are using Starlink to gain access to education, health services, and even communications support during natural disasters” (Starlink, n.d.). As this technology becomes available, it creates opportunities to give people in censorship states and other challenging situations access to media and connectivity. A positive but one that may have to be watched and evaluated as availability continues to be expanded.
Tech for Development
In many ways, these ideas have been contradicted as the power of technology grows in our modern world, but as Madianou (2022) describes in Tech for Good, technology can empower global progress and is systemically entrenched in the field of international development and humanitarianism. This, especially in digitally-powered technology, is used today in developing nations. From mobile pay-go bicycle shares in southern Zambia, data research to understand electricity needs in rural Zimbabwe, and Machine/AI learning to improve road conditions in Tanzania (Wilkinson, 2019). Technological advancements have given us unimaginable strides in the health, environmental, educational fields, and others. Humanitarianism in tech is a growing field that could have the invaluable potential for sustainable development globally.
One of the forces that will enable rapid leaps in development is quantum computing. This tech will allow us to process data instantaneously, practically bypassing everything currently known about computer programming and the limits of processing technology. We will be able to encrypt things in an unbreakable way, which is a positive for cyber security advancement, we will be able to run simulations of entire universes simultaneously due to the nearly limitless processing power we will obtain, and we will have quantum networks that will allow connectivity of the likes which we have never seen. While these predictions are more than ten years down the road, according to IBM, one of the only companies with a functioning quantum computer, it will cause a drastic change in all of our lifetimes.
Terrible Technology: Worried for the Future?
As often depicted in science fiction, also in real life, technology may lead to unexpected and unwanted consequences. This may lead to more unequal and less secure, less trusting societies:
Societal, economic, and political changes fuelled by technology are never neutral. A prime example is AI which offers perhaps the most exciting vistas for the future yet brings about the biggest worries. It becomes particularly obvious how some sectors are using AI in potentially discriminating ways when looking at recruitment. Currently, companies are using machine learning programs to sort through large amounts of resumes to select potential candidates for new positions. The problem comes when we look at how those algorithms are created, tested, and applied and how their use leads to systemic discrimination of certain groups of people whose resumes may not be interpreted favorably by the program. That happens because AI hiring software uses algorithms that repeat existing prejudice from people and are trained with historical data that can contain unfair judgments (Shukla, 2022).
The programs often reject resumes that do not fit traditional standards and introduce ethical issues ranging from the reluctance of candidates to be honest because they may be discriminated against to a lack of understanding of the intentions and sentiment of applicants (Shukla, 2022). A report by IDC shares a prediction that by 2024, 80% of the Global 2000 companies will implement AI in employee management processes such as hiring, training, and firing (IDC, 2021). This means that many talented and qualified people will miss out on job opportunities, especially in lower-paying sectors, and be discriminated against through software that is unregulated to a large degree (Mearian, 2022).
A recent study discusses the ability of AI in the form of deep neural networks to detect sexual orientation from facial images (Wang & Kosinski, 2018). According to the study, deep neural networks were used to extract features from 35,326 facial images and classify them based on the perceived sexual orientation of the person in the image. The classifiers can detect with 81% accuracy the sexual orientation of a male as gay versus heterosexual using just one image. The algorithm’s accuracy increases to over 90% if five facial images of an individual are provided. Although the study attempts to prove that faces can reveal more information about sexual orientation than is perceived by the human brain, the implications of such a technology can be terrifying, given how AI is already being used for surveillance by various countries. This raises concerns regarding the potential for discrimination and further marginalization of the LGBTQ community, especially if the tech is deployed by authoritarian regimes and discriminatory groups to classify and segregate people based on their sexual orientation (Andrei, 2022).
I’ll Be Watching You
Discrimination results from skewed data, but “surveillance capitalism” (Zuboff, 2019) affects us all. Fingerprint recognition has been a distinctive technological development within our lifetime. Although this innovation provides technological advancements, it can also have major human rights and privacy drawbacks. According to Mitek (2021), biometrics are converted into data and stored, particularly in places or countries with large surveillance measures; a user runs the risk of leaving a permanent digital record that can be potentially tracked by nefarious actors.” This indicates that it gives the government and tech companies ready access to your data, as finger recognition has been implemented in many smartphones. Smartphones themselves have no concrete protection to guard your data. In essence, a fingerprint is unique to a respective individual, and being ready to give biometrics to tech companies should be a topic of concern about one’s inalienable privacy.
Furthermore, as facial recognition becomes the standard for security-related situations, it is becoming an issue daily for citizens. After researching facial recognition and privacy, it has been proven that facial recognition does indeed raise privacy concerns for many people. There is potential for a ban on the use of facial recognition. With faces aligning with identities, it is difficult to separate the two. It, unfortunately, hasn’t been a choice for citizens to hide their faces, causing the development of facial recognition with masks or even facial blurs in photos. The use of facial recognition also leads to potential data theft, identity theft, and other crimes. Using FRT to identify individuals without their knowledge or consent raises privacy concerns, especially since biometrics are unique to an individual. Furthermore, it poses additional concerns because, unlike other biometrics (e.g., fingerprinting), facial scans can be captured easily, remotely, and in secret—like Clearview AI’s dataset created from billions of photos secretly scraped from social media and other websites without consent (Lively, 2021).
New Fields: Deepfakes
Deep fakes is a new deep learning technology; it is a learning machine that can replace a person from an original video with someone else, transposing a new face onto a target. The technology makes the video so real it is hard to detect. What is worrisome is the ability to realistically remove and attach one face to another target. This can be used for more bad than good. For example, someone who has the ability of this incoming technology who commits a crime can use it to change the face on the video to free themselves.
New Fields: Neurotech
A novel communication innovation that is rapidly gaining interest is neurotechnology. Based on the premise of resolving cognitive issues stemming from injury and brain disease, neurotechnology looks to improve the communication between the brain and the body. Yet, this technology has ethical issues that leave our identity, privacy, and capacity susceptible. According to Ethical Aspects of BCI Technology: What is the State of the Art?, the authors state that commercial ventures have identified Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) as an opportunity for the melding of human intelligence and AI in emerging markets, such as gaming communities and human-technology interfaces (Coin, Mulder & Dubljević, 2020). The lack of policies in place threatens our unique capacities to behave and critically think independently. Yet, the psychological and ethical issues leave participants vulnerable to this innovative technology. The topic of one’s identity has shown that neurotechnologies have caused a loss of “self,” affecting their communication with their communities and others. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Although a patient typically does remain a person after an intervention in the strict philosophical sense of the term, he or she could be left with an altered personality…” (Müller & Rotter, 2017). Individuals could develop new altered behaviors that may contradict their norms and values, leaving them unrecognizable to their community members (family, friends, etc.)
New Fields: Genome-editing
CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome-editing tool causing a stir in the scientific community. It’s a groundbreaking technology that allows geneticists and medical researchers to edit portions of the genome by removing, inserting, or changing DNA sequences. Crispr is more accurate, faster, and less expensive than earlier DNA editing approaches, and it has a wide range of possible uses. However, it is sparking crucial conversations on the ethics of futurism. Because any alterations performed to germline cells are transmitted down through generations, there are great concerns for significant ethical consequences. “CRISPR–Cas9 also needs to be judged for the good of future generations. Just as present generations have reasons to be grateful for medical advances made possible by past researchers and participants, there are reasons now to have concern for the good of future ones. In this way, mutuality exists across time.”
In nearly half of the specimens analyzed, the Crispr-Cas9 technology appeared to cause genetic mayhem. A new study by the Journal Cell has shown that Crispr “can cause serious side effects in the cells of human embryos, prompting them to discard large chunks of their genetic material” (Zuccaro & Xu, 2020)
Old Fields: Cryptocurrencies
Even relatively established innovations can cause harm, which may become evident only when the tech becomes more mainstream. Although cryptocurrency has moved to the mainstream media and is a large topic of conversation, the portion of society that owns and invests in it is still quite minute. Though for some, there is an expectation that cryptocurrency is the future of all currency, it comes with the potential for many issues in society in the future. Anonymity, inaccessibility to the lower classes and potential issues for breaches in data servers leave room for much concern. Tracking the movement of money will be more difficult as the attachment of names to money will be harder to discern. Citizens in the lower financial and social classes worldwide will not have the ability to mine, obtain, and maintain currency in this form, leaving the richer to obtain and create monopolies on online forms of currency, making the divide between social and financial classes even greater. Data breaches, hacking, and many other forms of online issues may become a larger problem in the future if cryptocurrency continues to rise in popularity.
Conclusion: Challenges for Tech Governance
The cases presented in this blog show that tech in the past and present have emphasized making these resources available to all those interested in participating and not just wanting to protect their users. Technology flourishes among eager-minded individuals, and it proves to be the cornerstone of our modern society. While this isn’t superficially negative, taking a deeper look, we find that the disadvantages of technology also equal the advantages, and human beings need to be constantly aware of their rights and not be blinded by the shiny mechanism that is technology. Governance is needed in several fields:
Generally, one can argue the increase in cyber security attacks is a consequence of a lack of governance of digital media in some areas, such as flagging content. Digital threats are now just as serious as in-person, while many have warning signs that could make them possibly preventable. Media governance issues sometimes prevent the rights to flag and prevent. The shift toward adaptive security and AI data warehouses for security analytics could help identify these attacks faster and more efficiently than the human search, as long as they are governed correctly.
Another example is the development of technology that has called for many legislative efforts to prevent harm to mental health, particularly young people, such as enhancing data privacy protections and banning youth-targeted advertising. However, although there are some guidelines for using the media, the measures to prevent and treat such negative impacts of technology have not yet been standardized. Therefore, it is important to approach innovation from several aspects and secure clear evaluation criteria.
More generally, digital privacy is already overwhelmed by media governance issues. If this technology were to become mainstream, in addition to privacy concerns, it could also be weaponized against individuals through modification of their images. The governance challenges with such a technology are multi-layered and complex and would require an aggressive but nuanced approach.
In terms of the most debated development, AI, we should avoid automatically implementing AI technology that has a decision-making influence over people because it is easy and helps with large amounts of information. In the case of using AI programs to hire people, human resource departments should ensure that there is always a human element when looking through resumes and evaluating the performance of such technology. That is beneficial for the candidates applying for the job and the recruiters as they may discover candidates that are a very good fit for the position, whose resumes may have been unfairly judged or even rejected by the AI program used.
While innovation is important for the evolution of medicine, communication, exploration, etc., a balance needs to be in balance to tread carefully to avoid marginalizing communities and/or affecting everyone’s freedom of rights, privacy, and information. Innovations should be utilized to support individuals within their endeavors, health, etc. but not as an absolute substitute for our capacity to act. Technology is what we make of it, and it will trend toward inhumane and more capitalistic tendencies if we don’t act and form governing practices.