Recommended reading written by Dion Chang …
Fans of Star Wars will appreciate the reference and phrase, “crossing over to the dark side”. The protagonist of the movie series, Luke Skywalker, eventually discovers that his father is (his nemesis and evil opponent) Darth Vader, who then tries to lure his son away from fighting evil, and join him serving the “dark side”. It is the classic good versus evil scenario used in countless movies, novels and traditional folklore. It is ironic then, that in the 21st century, technology finds itself at the very same fork in the road ahead. We have at our disposal, untested technologies – all purported to be the next best thing since sliced bread – but at the same time containing the ability to do good or evil.
Take Google Glass for example. This little device is poised to be one of the most revolutionary gadgets to be launched into our digital lives. If you haven’t seen a prototype yet, it is looks like a pair of spectacles, but instead of two optical frames, it only has one small glass rectangle just off the centre of your right eye. This little rectangle of glass will give the wearer the illusion of a 63cm colour TV floating about 2.5m in front of him or her – it will look like a Mission Impossible virtual screen just off your periphery vision. You will allegedly be able to scroll through your emails, take pictures or record videos, watch or transmit them, all with simple voice commands. It is meant to allow other people in your social network to see what you are seeing, in real time. However, even though it has not even been commercially launched yet, a recent survey in the UK found that already 20% of people interviewed would like to see the sale of the gadget banned. A backlash of this nature, before the official launch, is obviously raising eyebrows.
The main concerns are those of privacy – a hot topic of debate in the digital era. Unlike camera phones where the user still has to raise and point the device when taking a photo, Google Glass will enable it’s user to secretly capture images without anyone knowing. Issues of copyright at trade fairs, sensitive government locations and general reconnaissance of one’s competitors are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential invasive use of the gadget. They might be unintended consequences of the technology, but they are all relevant concerns.
Unintended consequences seem to be the name of the game when dealing with today’s new technologies. It could be argued that the inventors or developers only had good intentions, but as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intention”.
Another example is the 3D printing revolution. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is set to completely alter the value chain of manufacturing. When the world moved from an agricultural age to an industrial age, mass manufacturing changed the world. Good quality items could suddenly be produced on a large scale, but it was only really effective when producing large numbers. 3D printing will enable anyone with a 3D printer (and very soon they will be as common and accessible as buying an old-school paper printer) to print one-off items in their homes. Currently, 3D printers already make 20% of retail products, from kitchen appliances to shoes and Smartphone components. The dark side of 3D printing is that the first home printed gun has been produced and fired in America, which in turn opens a whole new portal of evil intention.
Drones, the sophisticated versions of remote controlled miniature airplanes, which have been used by the military for many years, are now poised to be used commercially. On the good side, drones are now used to combat rhino poaching in game farms, and savvy marketers are even using them to deliver beer and pizzas at music festivals. However, we’ve recently discovered that the American government has been using drones to spy on their own citizens “for their own good”.
Driverless cars are yet another problem looming. The prototypes are already proving to have a 100% safety record. The only accidents that have occurred are when other drivers crash into them. Fantastic and futuristic possibilities abound when cars can drive itself: think hassle-free navigation in a foreign city or country when you rent your own driverless car. But when cars are no longer simply mechanical components, but sophisticated computers on wheels, assassination will become as easy as hacking into a breaking system, and nothing as messy and clumsy as having to shoot someone. A fork in the road indeed.
In terms of innovation and technology, this is one of the most exciting times to be living in. The possibilities are endless, but with so much freedom there comes with it, the burden of responsibility. We don’t so much adopt new technologies, but rather co-evolve with it, and the solution it provides determines its trajectory, and so the saying, “be careful what you wish for” has never been more apt.
By: Dion Chang
Image credit: Gallo Images/Getty Images