Technology Reflections

Wednesday, Jan 02 2019 06:22 PM

Technology does not just pervade our world today; it defines it.

We live in an era where:

○ 2 billion of the world’s 7.7 billion inhabitants are now online (on the Internet) — a degree of connection unprecedented in history.

○ We create more data — five exabytes (5,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or five quintillion bytes) of data — every two days than we did from the dawn of civilisation to 2003, according to ex-Google-CEO Eric Schmidt.

○ Electricity, the Internet, cell phones, and computers have become so ingrained in our lives that vast numbers of people in the modern world would be utterly lost without them.

○ Social media platforms like Twitter can deliver unfiltered, uncensored news of an event minutes after it’s occurred.

Today, technology is providing solutions from the sublime to the sustainable.

Medicine/Science
Precision Medicine is all about genetic alteration and switching specific genes on and off to prevent disease or offering targeted, highly effective treatments. One example: injecting the mother’s stem cells into the umbilical veins to treat and possibly even cure a baby in the uterus that has Alpha Thalassemia.

Crime
In September last year, BBC News Africa explained how, using a combination of sources, geographical clues and online detective work, journalists managed to establish where a mass killing footage was filmed and who the perpetrators were.

AI/Robots
Artificial Intelligence, robots and automation will raise productivity and economic growth. They will also, many fear, eliminate or downgrade millions of jobs, though tech giants say job losses are a myth. Whatever the case, switching occupations or upgrading skills will certainly be required.

Environment
An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean every year. The Ocean Cleanup project is developing advanced technologies to rid the world's oceans of as much of it as possible.

This may sound like technological Nirvana (or at least the beginning of it), but many users fear the dark side of technology, and rightly so.

We live in times of Big Countries (Big Brother), Big Companies and Big Data. There are genuine security and privacy concerns, and they will grow. Facebook currently has 2.27 billion users monthly; in 2018, Alibaba raked in US$30.8 billion in sales in 24 hours on ‘Singles Day’ (11 Nov); the Alipay user base exploded to 520 million users after collaborating with financial firms overseas for Chinese travellers. How much do you think the user data on these sites is worth to advertisers — and to hackers?

Just a month ago, Marriott disclosed that hackers have had access to the private details of 500 million of its customers for the past four years. A security breach on Facebook, reported in September 2018, exposed the personal information of almost 50 million users.

How do we safeguard our reputation, maintain our privacy, and protect what’s rightfully ours when the technology we’ve grown to rely on is used against us? What can we do about the threat of violence, cybertheft, intrusive surveillance, etc? Can we appropriate technology to provide the security and safety that’s our fundamental human right?

No one solution will do; we use a combination of techniques, both customary and modern. We rely on common sense; don’t put all our eggs in one basket; use private vaults for important papers, physical assets or irreplaceable mementos; always encrypt and backup sensitive data; use multi-factor authentication; and depend on biometrics.

The biometrics market, for instance, growing at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 15% from 2017 to 2022, is forecast to reach an estimated USD$32.4 billion by 2022. This is driven by growth in ‘e-passports’ for personal identification and voice-recognition systems.

Technology is neutral; it does not and cannot answer the question “Should I …?”. But it’s not the Machine we need to fear; it’s the Man in the Machine. Our primary concern must be the intention, not the instrument. It may have been the illicit drug market which first embraced bitcoin, but this does not detract from the fact that cryptocurrencies provide the first truly practical way of transferring value between people anywhere in the world, without the need of a trusted intermediary.

Technology is here to stay; nobody in his right mind would argue otherwise. While we cannot pin all our hopes on high-tech fixes to solve today’s problems, there’s absolutely no doubt that technology has brought the world together and remains one of our best bets for resolving some of our most intractable problems.