Technology and Society: AI, Robots, Drones, and People

If you enjoy science fiction, as I do, you know that it’s replete with visions of worlds enabled by technology, both utopian and dystopian. A world without hunger or disease on the one hand to one reduced to a post-apocalyptic state by nuclear, biological, or cyber warfare or by a “technological singularity” (where, e.g., the number of network connections surpassing a critical mass causes the Internet to become suddenly conscious and decide that we have done such a terrible job of running our society and planet that we are best put on leash or gotten rid of altogether).

Extreme visions of the future aside, there are genuine concerns about the near-term societal impact of some of the technologies now on the horizon. Many are concerned about how companies will exploit the vast amount of our personal data that’s in their data banks and what the bad guys equipped with the same tools as the good guys – e.g., Big Data/Analytics and Artificial Intelligence – will do with it if they hack into those data stores. Driverless cars, various types of drones, industrial, commercial, and household robots, and AI systems that can automate many ‘white collar’ functions are arousing job loss fears. The Internet of Things (IoT) is raising concern among government agencies and businesses alike of the potential of remotely engineered harm to infrastructure and people.

Technology is also one of the main factor that’s driving – and accelerating – the process of globalization. Globalization was initially seen as leading to a sort of idyllic global village, a world without want, woe, or war. People are now aware that globalization has created winners as well as losers: It may have provided us with cheaper goods and raised living standards in other parts of the world (perhaps making the world more stable in the process), but it has also caused worker displacement and erosion of local autonomy, cultures, cuisines, crafts, and languages. This has resulted in backlash, giving rise to nationalistic political movements and unexpected political changes around the world.

These are just a few of the many societal concerns arising from the technologies already being rolled out or in the near-term deployment pipeline. From press rooms and board rooms to intra-company technical meetings, such concerns are popping up much more often than they used to. After several of our clients inquired with us about a course focused on the societal implications of technology, we decided that it was time to create one. The course is taught by a technology PhD with a lifetime of interest in the impact of technology on society. So check out our Technology and Society course outline and let us know if this is something that might interest your organization. Your comments about the issues raised here are welcome as well. Enjoy the summer!