Technology is impacting the way we behave. It’s about the way we communicate, the way we make decisions, the news we read, how we do business. Our smartphone is an extension of our body and our minds. We use it as a tool to speak, listen, look, think and decide. It is not so much about technology, it is all about human behavior. We see the digital world and the natural world becoming more and more entwined. The same should happen with experts in different disciplines.
The questions which arise in current society, related to usage of technology, are very diverse:
- what does the usage of smartphones mean for our physical and psychological well-being?
- what will the impact on our democracy be when we all live in our own bubble where we only read news which confirms our opinions?
- what kind of ethics should be implemented in artificial Intelligence software and how do we govern that?
- how do we keep our lives meaningful when robots take our jobs?
- how will we feel and behave when camera’s and microphones are open always and everywhere?
- what is the impact on our communication when we are never sure if we are talking to a human, a robot or something in-between?
The list of important questions is endless.
These questions are not the expertise of IT-people so we should not leave it to them. Regularly I hear IT colleagues say that indeed it would be good to involve other disciplines in what we are doing. That is a positive thing but by far not enough. It should not be the situation that IT develops things and consult people from other disciplines to ask what they think of it. The tech world should really open up and cooperate with people with a background in philosophy, psychology, ethics, sociology, politics, design, and arts on at least equal level. Or even better, those are the people who should take the lead.
Technological experts have the natural need to invent and develop new things and make it technically better. But the fact that it is possible to produce something, does not automatically mean that it must be produced. Technical experts are the worst people to determine and keep those boundaries.
It is not without reason that Cathy O’Neil named her book “Weapons of Math Destruction”. It is about the impact of big data and artificial intelligence. The title relates to “weapons of mass destruction”, which is one of the very few inventions for which mankind decided that there should be a global restriction on production. I foresee a similar need for certain artificial intelligence and we desperately need the “soft sciences” to take the lead in those discussions.