Technology is Running Amok

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

December 4, 2020

Technology is evolving rapidly and its usage now encompasses all sectors. Governments worldwide are bringing about fundamental changes to accommodate digital transformations in their economies. Its usage has enabled new growth avenues, allowing the realization of rapid productivity and scalability.

In recent times, technology has fast become central to healthcare. Although telehealth was picking up pace, it became a necessity for many amid the pandemic. The pandemic has also proven to be a testbed to explore the benefits of health tech offerings.

Another area that technology has spearheaded is sequencing of human genome – the greatest advancement in medical technology in the past four decades. Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health in the US, says, “For all of human history, we have labored without understanding our instruction book, and the human genome provided that. It’s like crossing a bridge.”

But as with everything else, technology too has its shortcomings. It is a powerful tool that has the ability to do much good but also possesses power to cause untold destruction. This is one of several topics that will be discussed in the upcoming ‘Horasis Extraordinary Meeting on the USA’. The online event is scheduled to take place using the ground-breaking Run the World digital conferencing platform on 18 March 2021.

Are there More Problems than Solutions?

Technology allows almost real time update on events taking place both locally and globally. This attribute is often misused to spread false information. The rampant distribution of fake news in regular social media channels has been a bane, so much so that there has been a blurring of lines between fact and fiction.

Smartphone usage is second nature to most but its downsides can yield damaging consequences. There is the very real possibility of data theft and privacy intrusions. Security breaches are in the news from time to time and large technology companies are known to also be victim to this threat.

Addictions to tech enabled entertainment such as online gaming have ushered in major problems in several countries. In South Korea, for instance, it was deemed necessary to impose a shut down on gaming networks for several hours during nights. This was because school going children were spending excessive time in gaming, with scant regard for other activities. The capital, Seoul, is now home to many centers for gaming deaddiction just as there are rehabilitation centers for victims of substance abuse. 

Artificial intelligence or AI is, meanwhile, another emerging technology that, undoubtedly, offers numerous possibilities. However, it is also often the subject of debate as to whether it has accelerated job losses in certain areas. AI is as good as its developer and the data it is fed to successfully complete its objective. But as Apple CEO Tim Cook puts it, “I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m worried about people thinking like computers without values or compassion.”

Is Increased Dependency the Right Way Forward?

Technology has definitely been a socio-economic leveler of sorts. It is, no doubt, fraught with risks and downsides, but its obvious advantages cannot be disregarded. In emerging economies particularly, it has been a major enabler as a means of communication, employment and with the pandemic, its role has been central to education and everyday living.

Perhaps there is a middle ground that can be tread. Guidelines may have to be chalked out to suggest just how much is too much? As with anything, moderation is best exercised. Can parameters be framed to suggest what thresholds must be observed in areas such as individual privacy? 

National defense is definitely one area witnessing high technology uptake. And AI powered infantries in future are a very real possibility. The consequences of such advancements can very well lead to collateral damage. World leaders must demonstrate responsibility in ensuring such areas are governed by sound policymaking. They must ensure such technologies are not acting against greater ideals of collaboration and inclusivity.

A Balanced Approach

Technology is perhaps running amok but just as excesses must be reined in, so too is the case with technology. Its use is second nature to us and it sure has enabled changes that one can never consider reversing. Tech has ensured progress in key areas such as healthcare, education and small business growth. With lockdowns continuing in certain parts of the world, it is technology alone that has allowed working from home for millions possible. 

The banking industry has a ‘check mechanism’ by way of an ombudsman. Likewise, various technology sectors may also need a similar mechanism. It is a sector that will continue to grow rapidly and especially so when developed economies sustain growth on the back of their services sector. Emerging economies too have seen the rise of several tech unicorns and its overarching advantages must be tapped into. But malpractices, downsides and threats must be alleviated and risks mitigated. Technology conglomerates are influential organizations and just as political leaders must demonstrate restraint and responsibility, so too must tech leaders.

Featured Photo Caption: A robotic infantry on display. Technology has proven extremely beneficial for society, but it also has the potential to be destructive and we must as a society be more responsible with our use of technology.