By | Abhijit Bhaduri | Founder, Abhijit Bhaduri & Associate
Tech has a strange way of behaving like an obedient child in the lab. When the creators think the technology is tame enough, they unleash it. Then it starts misbehaving. Microsoft created a bot called Tay and set it free on Twitter. Very quickly Tay did things to embarrass its creators. From racial slurs to supporting genocide, Tay picked up the worst of human nature in a matter of days. Its creators had to take “her” offline and then delete as many of the offending tweets as they could. Tech creations can become quite the Frankenstein!
Sometimes the uses are different from what its creators visualised. Kinect was aimed at teens who wanted to play cool games. Microsoft was pleasantly surprised to see it being used to get senior citizens to do their daily exercise.
Thomas Edison thought that sound recording would be used to share sermons. The biggest user of sound recording was not the church but the music industry. Sound recording launched several careers. Musicians, sound engineers, recording studios, fans and the ecosystem around music grew out of this tech. This may be a pattern to keep in mind. Those who create technology do not have a way to predict how it will be used. We intended the 3D printer to be used for printing spare parts at home. Some even estimated that we could all print toys too. It took Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student, less than a year to create the first fully 3D-printed gun. It took him less than a year to design and print his first gun, ‘The Liberator’. Then, he uploaded the files that let anybody print the gun to the internet, and over 100,000 people downloaded them before the State Department took them down.
Gene-editing and synthetic biology may go down the same path. They promise elimination of genetic diseases, improving the human immune system, and extending longevity. The same technology will allow us to create “designer babies” and modify human embryo – like Chinese researchers did in 2015. It is a new toy that can enable us to save endangered wildlife from extinction by implanting a fertility-reducing gene in invasive animals — a so-called gene drive. We can eliminate the mosquitoes that spread malaria. Birds that feed on these mosquitos will also disappear when we wipe out the pest. But there is no consensus on who will take decisions and monitor them.
It will become like nuclear power. The world saw the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but that has not dissuaded more nations from going nuclear. Humans get scared when others hold a knife. They never worry about keeping a knife handy – just in case. Science and tech are moving faster than regulations and debates about governance and ethics.
There is no doubt that tech improves our lives immensely. Yet, there is no escaping the rising inequalities that tech automatically creates. The value of bitcoins has been rising. Whether it is a bubble or just a new form of banking is still being debated.
The complexity makes it hard for a small investor to participate in it. Those who do not understand the emerging complexity of financial instruments cannot participate in this new world. You might say they could seek out a wealth advisor. Wealth advisors do not exist for those who live on pensions and small salaries. You have to be wealthy to attract the attention of a wealth advisor. The result is that just eight men own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. This is just what may be happening in the job market.
Cognizant’s centre for the Future of Work forecast recently that jobs such as master of edge computing, data detective, quantum machine learning analyst, AI-assisted healthcare technician, cyber city analyst, augmented reality journey builder would become a reality in the next five years. Other posts that we will see include chief trust officer, financial wellness coach, genomic portfolio director and genetic diversity officer.
Do you notice most of the jobs being created will need advanced degrees and specialised education? The future of work cannot leave out 99 per cent of the world. We have lived in a world where human-centred design is just a cliché. When we “move fast and break things”, it’s the poor who often feel the body blow.
We have been creating tech and then making feeble attempts at humanising it. We focus on curing disease rather than on well-being. Tech must be designed by humanists. Tech wields enormous power. And we all know that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
We have to measure progress as seen from the eyes of the bottom half of the pyramid. The creators of the technology must be held accountable for the damage they can unleash. When the inventor of dynamite saw the damage it could cause, a remorseful Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prize to celebrate the bright side of technology. That is what we need. Can that be the tech resolution for 2018?