Oct 16th 2017

Technology: What is it good for?

When science and tech oracles Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are warning of the dangers of technology, we know things can’t be good. Lethal autonomous weaponry, cyber bullying, fake news, data theft, porn-addict kids, as well as the estimation that only 5% of young workers are safe from being replaced by robots, are all signs of a society riddled with technology.

Does the unstoppable escalation in tech development mean that we are condemned to a future governed by AI, devoid of human interaction, and in which every individual’s move, thought, and communication is tracked and logged by a ruling elite of social media firms?

There has been much scaremongering around the dangers of technology, so instead of indulging these doomsayers, I thought it was about time that tech got some credit for the advances it has brought and the good it has done.

Take education. Connected devices provide students with access to online resources, and offer a link between pupil and teacher no matter where they’re located. The decreasing cost of hardware and connected devices, as well as more reliable and available internet connectivity, have helped accelerate learning and advance literacy levels in developing nations.

Technology has also had roaring success in the animal kingdom. At the start of this year, the Internet of Life launched a project which saw connected devices implanted into the horns of rhinos in Tanzania, to remotely track the animals and respond to poaching incidents; a major factor in the decline in rhino numbers.

We’ve all heard about 3D printers being used to produce guns, but there is also a sunnier side to the technology. Positive initiatives include that by WASP (an acronym for the humbly-titled, ‘World’s Advanced Saving Project), a not-for-profit with the goal of manufacturing houses with a ‘near zero’ environmental impact. The wider 3D printing industry could also contribute to a greener future, by eliminating the production of unnecessary components and only using the required amount of material, whilst enabling ‘on-demand’ manufacturing.   A study published in the Energy Policy Journal has suggested that 3D printing could reduce energy use by between 2.54 and 9.30 exajoules by 2025, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 130.5 and 525.5 megatons over the same period.

But what about those UAVs bombing territories, controlled at the touch of a button thousands of miles away? Or even the many near-misses between airborne devices and commercial carriers? Whilst these examples severely colour the reputation of the industry, drones have and are being used for good. From detecting nuclear radiation and aiding disaster response teams, to the launch in Rwanda last year of the world’s first national drone delivery service for blood, vaccines and medicine; the scope of industries and communities set to benefit from developments in this space is huge.

So, what can be done to ensure that the all the good is wrung out from technology, whilst all the bad is hung out to dry? Tightening up cyber security and data protection, standardisation and regulation, as well as a renewed focus on training and skills, will all help right our pathway to a safe, green, ethical future, which benefits all. However, it should also be remembered that reliance on technology and devices should not be at the expense of human thought, communication and creativity, or for the profit of the few. Growth doesn’t always equal prosperity. Any decisions on restricting technology, content moderation and censorship must be considered, and the consumer and the C-suite must engage in, not be swept up by, the tech debate. Humans need to think less of themselves, and more for themselves.