Technology is sexy. It suits everything. Social development buzzwords most of all. It has enormous potential to make our lives better, more comfortable and safer. However, if we look at certain phenomena from a slightly different perspective, it is no longer so obvious. Let’s take a look at the example of the seemingly uncontroversial Voice Recogition technology, that provieds us with digital assistants ready to help us whenever we need. This technology works on almost every smartphone and we can say that it has already been practically perfected, making life easier for people all over the world. There is only one condition. In order for the computer to understand us easily and interact with us, we must speak in a white North American voice. Each deviation from this norm means that the machine gets confused, which is easy to see when asking Siri about nearby restaurants in Polish.
Information as a weapon
Another example presented during the conference was free access to information, which has become reality, thanks to the Internet. Several years ago, during the Internet revolution, it seemed that publicly available information and unlimited possibilities of communication would help people create a truly democratic society based on knowledge and dialogue. However, reality turned out not to be so wonderful. Information is weaponized today, and the Internet and social media are becoming a growing threat. It turns out that society has taken shortcuts in terms of connectivity to the Internet. Receiving information which we agree with is much easier than analyzing messages that confuse us. By doing so, we are closing ourselves to dialogue. And hence the slippery slope to isolation, social polarization, post-truth and manipulation.
Finally, digitalization does not mean the same everywhere. In recent years, Africa has become a huge market for producers of mobile devices. The demand for smartphones is huge, and more and more Africans are getting them. However, drawing the conclusion that they are no longer digitally excluded would be a mistake. It turns out that many of those who can afford to buy a smartphone can’t afford the Internet, and the device is mainly a desirable status symbol for them.
On the one hand, we still have a lot of work ahead of us to build a global, connected society which no one is excluded from. Indeed, a lot of effort is currently being invested in getting as many people as possible involved in this network. However, is it always best for such people? After all, those already connected are struggling with problems resulting from the ever-increasing digitization of life. The devices we wear and the services we use, know more about us. And this knowledge is no longer our property. It is owned by technology companies in which we place very little trust.
No rules, no trust
Admittedly, research shows that 51% of us believe that the Internet, software development and connected technology are of fundamental significance to social development. But a worryingly large number of us (49%) are afraid of where these technologies could lead the human race in the future. In addition, as many as 53% believe that the development of Artificial Intelligence will have a negative impact on people’s lives in the future, and as many as 72% are concerned about the amount of information that the world’s largest technology companies have about us. Technology is not just an opportunity, but also a cause for concern. To some extent, this is the result of a lack of knowledge – we are always afraid of the unknown. But it is also the result of a lack of clear guidelines on which boundaries we want to cross and which we don’t. Are we the owners of the data that we create? What is more important: privacy or business? Freedom or security? The individual or society?
A Better Future – for whom?
But the key question that should be answered in this situation is: who exactly are we creating a better future for? For everyone on earth, as an individual? For all mankind? Or maybe for the Earth, the planet we live on? This may not seem any different. What is good for the individual should be good for society. Often, however, this is not the case. A better future for mankind should go hand in hand with a better future for the Earth as a whole. Currently, these are completely different areas, which unfortunately are largely mutually exclusive.