Any technological advance can be dangerous, observed Isaac Asimov, legendary sci-fi writer, decades ago. “Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech — and both are still dangerous to this day — but human beings would not be human without them,” Asimov reasoned. To be fair, most technologies that marked the period in which Asimov wrote and lived look like small change in comparison with what the world has been witnessing now. The year 2019 stood testimony to this fact. This was a period in which dramatic developments occurred in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, cloud computing and more.
The AI juggernaut got all powered up in 2019 so much so that concerns around its advancements and application in fields such as welfare distribution, recruitments, match-making, etc., by companies, governments and similar agencies drew worldwide criticism, with data scientists and technologists calling for more transparency and ethical clarity in the development, distribution and application of such algorithmic tools and products. And there has been some progress towards that end, with policymakers in a few geographies introducing bills and laws to tackle abuse of AI.
But more needs to be done to tackle the wilfully wrong application of technologies. Given the pace at which technologies evolve, we’d better hurry. To be frank, governments are quite handicapped when it comes to developing tools and procedures to tackle mal-tech. Take the issue of deep-fake, for example. One of the most alarming tech trends of 2019 was the unbridled use and abuse of deep fake technology. For starters, this is a malicious technology which helps make fake videos of people in which they can be shown doing things they would never have done in reality. The promise that computers can now create convincing videos and images of events, people and actions that never happened is quite scary. Verifying the veracity of such products is a tall order as things stand now.
The response from Big Tech, when asked about developing solutions to address such problems, has not been really proactive so far. The onus is now on consumers and policymakers. The year 2020 should see more efforts towards making tech more humane, proactive and egalitarian.