This is heavy, Doc!
Over the past few decades, technology has progressed at unprecedented rates in directions we never imagined, with rules we previously did not follow. Views have changed, cultures are intertwined, and we as a collective society must now find a way to develop the solutions of today for the problems of tomorrow.
This new paradigm is greatly influenced by the revolution brought about by the internet. Information being readily available and a couple of keyboard strokes away meant a selection of previously unexplored horizons and with it came brand new avenues for common citizens, businesses of various sizes, and professionals to earn, learn, and move outside of convention. For example: Instant messaging has allowed us to converse in real time with individuals from halfway across the globe, creating a boom for businesses through marketing channels, stronger customer relationships, and visibility. Widely considered by many as the “great equalizer” in terms of knowledge, the internet has provided us with the opportunity to gain access to vast amounts of content, some proving to have a huge impact on our approach to various aspects of life.
Today, we are witnessing the giants of the technology industry during the internet era slowly losing their grip on the global market. The titans of tomorrow, not far behind, stand on their shoulders, ready to take over when the time comes. In this so-called “Internet Age,” we are able to observe a certain trend with an eerily common denominator among them.
Technology is Evolving at an Exponential Rate
Now we can turn our attention to what Peter Diamandis likes to call the 6D’s of exponential growth—digitization, deception, disruption , dematerialization, demonetization, and democratization. These are the six phases that any product or idea undergoes on their way to making massive cultural and societal impact. It’s extremely vital to consider that with this concept comes a matching philosophy: Humans are linear, technology is exponential. The premise is simple: Technology does not evolve in a linear fashion as we humans do, but instead snowballs and escalates at an exponential rate, meaning that one day, at the rate we’re going, we will be outpaced by our own inventions and innovations.
Experts all over the world predict that humans are fast approaching the technological “singularity,” an almost dystopic concept of a society being overtaken by artificially intelligent machines and devices that are far more capable than we will ever be. Within the short timeframe of a decade, the singularity has transformed from a promising science fiction movie pitch into a legitimate scientific debacle. Suddenly, dystopic novels started to make more and more sense. If you had told anyone that a robot a-la Andre from Bicentennial Man would legally be considered a human being, possessing—or even surpassing the intellect of such—back when the movie came out, you would probably be categorized as part of the many different conspiracy theorists lurking in forums in the early days of the internet.
But the narrative is now entirely different. Theoretically possible but extremely difficult to pull off, human-level AI (one which could pass the Turing Test) could be the catalyst to transition from the reign of humans and to superintelligent machines that might altogether ignore Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. For the first time ever, we are considering putting rights, responsibility, identity, and machines together—in the same sentence and in the same context. When that exact moment will arrive—we don’t know for sure. Renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil says it can happen as early as 2045.
This, of course, raises ethical questions leading to the arrival of the technological singularity. Are machines capable of learning true human empathy? Can they actually exercise just and fair moral judgement? Can they fully comprehend risks? Are they entitled to the same rights us naturally produced, organic living beings enjoy?
At the rate we’re going, the singularity may very well arrive before we could come up with defined answers for these questions lest we prepare for it.
How exactly can we best ready ourselves aside from knowing that this is a distinct possibility?
Automation, Augmentation, and Autonomy
Thanks to recent innovations, the technology industry has definitely made lives more convenient. We’re able to remain in contact with our loved ones constantly and even reconnect with people we haven’t seen for a long time. We’ve been a part of significant cultural events, both past and present—think the royal wedding, the Malaysian elections, The Beatles’ last concert at the Apple Rooftop, etc. and we’ve had exchanges with people we otherwise would never be able to meet in a world void of connectivity. We get the experience what others get on a digital platform and that forces businesses to adapt.
In an industrial context, even production factories are digitized. Sensors and connecting mediums allow machines to communicate with each other. For example, if robot A senses an error in calibration or a malfunctioning part, it can automatically tell robot B that it needs to halt its operations in order for maintenance to be performed. To some extent, human assistance is still needed on this level for repairs, but that’s not to say that it hasn’t made life easier for them. In the past, when a machine would malfunction, the entire line would be stopped and maintenance would have to troubleshoot to check what the root of the problem is. Now, sensors installed can just as easily inform them of what needs to be fixed, which parts of the factory can operate perfectly without having to be shut down, and so on. Life is much easier. No, we don’t lose jobs, they just change in nature over time. We just have to adapt as they do.
As we begin to explore the fourth industrial revolution, we must shift our focus on addressing three main questions:
Since we depend on technology, we might someday lose manual skills for certain tasks. What could go wrong? (Think autonomous vehicles and losing the skill for manual driving)
Who are we giving the access and authority to embed critical knowledge in software to?
How do we ensure that processes being done behind the scenes are safe and reliable, enough to protect them from hackers, fraud, terrorists, or even natural disasters?
Let’s face the facts here: We’re becoming increasingly dependent on technology. But with drastically improved productivity and quality of life, we need to consider how, where, and to whom we’re giving control and governance. There’s much work to be done and there’s a lot left to discuss when it comes to adopting even decades-old innovations, and the risks need to be brought to light as well. Are we slowly losing control over our lives? That’s something to keep in mind.