The universe is connected by strings of structures at the edge of which are hierarchies and authorities responsible for these broad and complicated chains. In recent times, disruptive technologies have continued to alter how things are done traditionally across the board. What these emerging techs such as social media, artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IOTs), big data, remote sensing, Smart cities, and the like are out to achieve is a common intelligence i.e. a common understanding of things and people alike through algorithms of behaviours and synchronization. One can simply infer that global intelligence is being unified and might eventually lies in the hands of a people, if not so already. Things indeed speak, people speak, situations speak; we can rightly say anything with or without form are in a way or another an embodiment of information.
It might be interesting to know what people say, and what things say can be influenced and are often influenced, which means those who control these intelligence control the world, and once the authority lies in the hand of a people they can influence the language of things, of people and eventually the actions of people and reactions. How does this work? Usually, through the use of data, intentional use of language and algorithm technological design. An instance is the persuasive architecture design which Zeynep Tufekc described as a deliberate design of technology to influence the decisions of the users. In the digital ecosystem, however, persuasive architecture can be built to the scale of billions and they can target, infer, understand, and be deployed at individuals by figuring individual strengths or more relevantly weaknesses and vulnerability.
Imagine this being just the basis of what artificial intelligence (AI) can do. One major use of persuasive design especially in a market economy is advertisement; an attempt to influence the buying behaviour of customers with persuasive selling messages about products and services. Or more brutally politics, which has recently been added to the long list of products being sold on the internet. Our individual wisdom might be limited but a unified understanding of people and things might be more disastrous than ever imagined especially if in the hands of a people, or worst, a man as this will be a threat to culture, institutions, ingenuity, and indeed civilization.
Human wants are generally insatiable, which is one major reason we are perpetually glued to our mobile devices ‘socializing’ thereby giving access to all kinds of influence and in whatever direction while every other aspect of human life deteriorates. In the real sense, the fullness of man demands mindfulness; of self and of others, and all created things. Knowing them and, understanding them, and importantly sustaining them, since it is the essence of our creation which is clarified in mindfulness. Unfortunately, we are in a smart world with digital minds deprived of a thorough understanding of things having left serious learning in the hands of machines.
Machines are now in charge of understanding man and things alike, while man’s mind idles with no substantial understanding of himself nor his environment. Understanding as it is now is mostly through the internet; social media (Internet of man and his society), and soonest Internet of things (IOTs), and other complementing technologies such as big data, cloud computing, machine learning. And the recent cause of public brouhaha and near trade war between the United States and China, the 5G connectivity technology. It’s said that with the 5G and other superior connectivity technology in place, the actions of man will be almost as fast as his thought which means, there would be little and no place for second thought thereby creating a generation that leaves nothing to their imagination, the action generation. Are these emerging and disruptive technologies in themselves bad? No, nothing on its own is bad but rather the use to which it’s being put to.
Technology is a solution and there are many fantastic things that it’s currently being put into. We can say the world has never been this easy, some even claim ‘heaven’ is now on earth, and indisputably, disruptive technologies are here to stay. Having said all these, what can be done to ameliorate the negative impacts of the emerging technologies and how? First, the whole of digital technology design and operations must be user conscious, promotes ingenuity, and ensures privacy and adequate security. Second, the formulation of IT design goals, design process, and development must be humanistic in nature and, importantly sustainable. Finally, policies and legislations regulating digital technology need to pay adequate and deliberate attention to privacy, cybercrime, and security principles, and also on fair business practice especially customer, identity, reputation, dispute, and resolution processes.
There is no simple way out but importantly, discussion of possible solutions must allow for transparency, support human values and integrity and, control indiscriminate data collection and utilization, and must be all-inclusive. Technological designs must put human beings in control of their functionalities and not the other way round. In a deeper sense, we must control our ever-increasing thirst for more, especially in terms of materialism, consumerism, and avarice that define this century and have continued to make us the object of trade in a hyper-dynamic digital world.
• Tolu Olagunju researches social/digital media in political and corporate communications,; email:email@example.com; Twitter:@tolu_alex