Data, Smart Devices and AI – Are they the new plastic?

Whatever your views may be about the Extinction Rebellion protests around the world, the reality is that their actions are heightening public awareness and concern about the health of this little blue planet.

But every human generation pollutes. Even this one. We all leave our ‘mark’, our ‘footprint’. What’s more unfortunate is that every human generation appears to be completely ‘blind’ to the impact their actions today – the here and now – have on future generations.

Previous generations could not have foreseen the future impact of their actions. Plastics, vehicles, fossil fuels, industrialisation, nuclear power etc. etc., were, in their time, all hailed, as great scientific and engineering breakthroughs that would change our lives forever. And, they did. It’s been amazing. But what has been the real cost?

This also raises a perplexing question. What are we doing today – right here, right now – to impact our future generations? What are we doing today that will have unforeseen, negative outcomes in the future? What are we are unable to see?

The fact that we are unable to know what the future holds suggests that I can’t answer this one, but I do know this. Every generation strives towards a noble utopia – how the world could or should be. Right now, it looks and feels like a technological utopia where life is ‘transformed’ through smart devices, information technology, data analysis, robotics and Artificial Intelligence. But I wonder, is data and information technology the new plastic, the new pollution? Are we condemning future generations to decades of information pollution, or worse?

As in previous generations, we believe such new frontiers of science and technology will transform our lives for the better. And, they probably will in many instances. But we also can’t ignore the fact that cybercrime is reaching epidemic proportions. People are also afraid about how their personal information, including biometric data, is being captured, analysed and shared. In addition, there are real physical and mental health concerns about our growing addition to smart technologies. And, let’s not forget the environmental impact the production and distribution of smart devices is having on our world.

I am not anti-technology. A utopian non-tech world is just as fanciful as a utopian tech-centric one. However, I do believe in learning from the lessons of the past and, if we are to learn from previous generations, we should understand that, while technology itself is neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative, it creates tools that are exploited by the worst of human excess. That’s why we should be concerned about our actions today in addition to what has happened over the past few generations and the mess that’s been left for this generation to try and clean-up.

The mechanised warfare of World War I serves as a horrific example of how the tools of ‘progress’ were turned against humanity. Are we, once again, sleepwalking into another tragedy of epic global proportions – a dystopian data driven, information-centric society?

The impact of all ‘technological advancement’ – logical or physical – must be considered very deeply and very carefully. The recent implementation of new privacy and information security regulations are, I believe, the first wave of enforcement that reflects the growing global concern over how the Information Society is evolving.  

But I would go further. I believe this is an issue that needs to be tackled by the world’s greatest minds and I would go as far as to suggest the creation of a body or agency where all new technologies are tested and simulated – exploring every possible outcome – before they are released into the world. Something like the regulatory safeguards in pharma. Everything from where and how the components are sourced and used, to the code that is written and the information that is captured and shared, should be assessed and considered carefully. I don’t know if this is practical or if there is any interest in this, but at least we would be taking steps to try and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

October is Cyber Security Awareness month in Europe and the USA. It is a time when we are all supposed to stop and think about our online security. But when you power-up your smart phone, why not take a few moments to think about how the device was produced, where, what it does, and where the information goes. Everything has a price.

Philip Adams, SVP.

#extinctionrebellion #data #environment #cybersecurity #dataprivacy