“If technology is a drug — and it does feel like a drug — then what, precisely, are the side-effects?” stated Charlie Brooker, who created the British TV series Black Mirror, in an interview. That question has stuck with me ever since. He basically likened technology to a drug (“and it does feel like a drug”) that brings relief, but perhaps also comes with side effects that are not so beneficial. I am an unapologetic enthusiast of unbridled technology — especially when it comes to how it can improve our lives and the way we do business. To me, it is simply the next natural evolution of life and I have a strong feeling that humans have already and unknowingly been transcended. However, Brooker’s cautionary perspective about the dark side of our addiction to technology is definitely a topic worth exploring.
So as society moves towards a future that’s increasingly dependent on technology, and the businesses we create center on it, it’s natural to want to believe that we’ve got that technology firmly under our control. But are we kidding ourselves? Are we moving forward in blissful ignorance of some potential for technology to instead control — and perhaps harm us instead?
As an entrepreneur focused on big data, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite technology topics that I see having the greatest potential for a potentially positive and negative influence on our lives and business. Are we headed for a world replete with innovation that serves only to make daily life better and more convenient, or one in which the side effects Brooker talked about are worse than the cure? Ultimately, it’s not really an either-or question.
Depending on who you ask, the future looks very bright and very dark, but no matter how you see it, it is coming at us at warp speed. Here are three examples of what I mean.
As the amount of data available for analysis grows, will the future be filled with machines imbued with the intelligence to take over the menial tasks we dislike while making us feel smarter than ever? Or will these examples of machine learning (or, more specifically, deep learning) instead just plain take over all of our decisions? On the one hand, you have people like the venture capitalistShivon Zilis, who “can’t wait to see what creative problems deep learning practitioners try to solve,” sounding entirely bullish on the idea. On the other hand, you have the physicist Stephen Hawking reportedly telling the BBC that AI, if fully developed, could conceivably take off on its own and “spell the end of the human race.” I lean toward Zilis’ point of view, but I’m certainly not inclined to entirely ignore the opinions of someone as brilliant and forward-thinking as Hawking.
One technology-of-the-future topic people never seem to tire of talking about today is the car that drives itself. This will unlock unlimited possibilities for new business ideas and personal use alike. For innovator Kevin Ashton, who coined the term “The Internet of Things,” it’s a welcome prospect. He described self-driving cars in a recent interview as something that “will give us back the 20 days a year we spend doing nothing but driving, will save 40,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone, will reduce traffic and pollution, and will allow cities to grow without devoting as much land to roads.” Who could argue with that? Well, apparently, philosophy professor Patrick Lin could— and has. Lin worries that self-driving cars won’t be able to make the split-second judgment calls that human drivers do to avoid accidents and that putting them on the road might therefore not be such a wise — or even ethical choice.
How far away, really, is Apple AAPL +0.26%’s Siri from the operating system the main character falls in love with in the movie Her? It’s easy to get excited thinking about all the applications of computers with human-like personalities. I’d argue that while we are closer than ever before, we’re still a long way from human-like technologies that we can actually get emotionally attached to. But what about pets? On a visit to the MIT Media Lab a while back, the TV seriesScientific American Frontiers introduced viewers to the lab’s virtual pet dog, and in one episode, host Alan Alda even tried his hand at training him. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, on the other hand, doesn’t seem so sure about that. In an interview earlier this year, he speculated that in a world inhabited by human-like computers, we the people might end up being the family pets.
These are just a few of the many examples ranging fromdevices to healthcare on how technology will give way to new possibilities for business, and even better lives. It is now up to us to attempt to responsibly invent a better future for everyone.
Of course, this isn’t the first time in history that people have asked themselves whether science and technology are taking us down a promising or perilous path. A story like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein emerged more than 200 years ago, in a time of tremendous scientific changeand uncertainty that gave rise to both hopes and — in Shelley’s case, apparently — fears about what could lie ahead. As long as advances in science keep coming, people will keep choosing whether to embrace or fear them, but they cannot stop them. For my part, I tend to look on the bright side and to embrace our new apex lifeform by building companies, innovating, teaching our younger generation and investing in making the machine faster, more intelligent, more power efficient and less dependent on humans. But voices like Charlie Brooker’s and Mary Shelley’s keep me honest, reminding me that “expect the best, but be prepared for the worst” may be the best advice for anyone eager for a look into a future filled with robots and inventions we haven’t even dreamed up yet. Just look at this video of the latest DARPA robotics competition and interpret your feelings. Are you excited, scared, sympathetic or simply amazed by the human like robots falling on their face?
To view the orginal post, please visit Forbes.com.