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Didem Gurdur

This week I had the chance to listen to a philosophical talk By Edward A. Lee who is the author of Plato and the Nerd – The Creative Partnership of Humans and Technology, a number of textbooks and research monographs, and more than 300 papers and technical reports.

As a researcher who has cited him several times, I enjoyed his talk on the Living Digital Things. I found the ambition to call cyber-physical systems as living things brave and to be honest, this is what I expect from a scientist to be; brave.
I already ordered his latest book and I do not want to comment on the idea before reading the book. Surely, 40-60 minutes talk is not enough to transfer all the content. This post does not intend to discuss the talk anyway. I want to talk about the future instead.

WARNING! There will not be some fortune telling sessions happening here soon, so do not expect answers to what will happen in 2200.

Future was, is and will be an interesting discussion point. People will continue to wonder what is going to happen in coming years and decades. Not only me, we all, at some point, face the questions about how the technologies we work with today would affect the future. I am quite aware that these questions are inevitable. Furthermore, people will continue to have thoughts about the future – like any other topic, it is not really a requirement to know before talking.

Some people will continue to think that if they know what will happen from today, they can earn some profit and become rich in short time. Some will get scared of the speed that changes people, society, economic systems etc. Some will, surely, live in an episode of Black Mirror. Some will argue that we are not progressing and the world was better without all these machines and robots around us. Extensive literature exists which discusses these views. At the same time, there are many enthusiastic people, associations, societies that are honestly trying to predict how the future will be. I do not think that it is possible to predict the future 100%. But we can design a few possible futures which are pausible. These days, I spent considerable about of time on this research methods and I am trying to learn how one can be a future strategist by using these methods.

Although I am very interested with the future, still I cannot take forecasts for the world in 2100. Sometimes, they even go so far that it does not serve the purpose anymore and evolves to a dystopian science fiction really. Robots who will destroy the humanity for example.

Did you ever watch any robotics challenges? I don’t want to be mean but I cannot imagine that technology will evolve in a way that they will aim to kill me. Are there labs that are working on robots to kill people, hell yeah, but will all these intelligent systems such as robots, drones, vehicles join their forces to kill and destroy us? Oh me oh my! Let me give you a secret; these systems are designed and developed by humans and I have never seen anything more dangerous than humans. No, the robots will never get all of our jobs (we will always have things to do) and no they are not going to erase the human existence from the world (humans are pretty good at doing this anyway, we do not need any help from these machines).

When I read the far-fetched forecasts on how these technologies will erase us, for a second, I believe that we are living in that kind of a world, where we are at risk just because of the technological advancements. The truth is, we are just common citizens who are reading some unrealistic forecasts and naively believing them. The truth is, today, we are not even able to make our governments stop wars – if not to stop starting them -. We are not able to ask for better health systems, free education for everyone, or to make it illegal to treat people differently due to their race, gender, religion, sexuality or disability. We are the societies who are willingly torturing animals through thousands of different ways just to eat their flesh. We are the people who let cooperations drill oceans for profit just for the possibility to have better cars to drive and make profit as a primarily goal. We are the ones who destroy nature on a daily basis and do not care about it at all. We are the ones who killed the The Great Barrier Reef, Pinta Giant Tortoises, Western Black Rhinoceros and many more.

I do technology, I study technology, I read technology, I love technology. I understand people who are making a call for control mechanisms for technological changes and I see why people are anxious that these new technologies will make them poorer or less important. I find most of the antagonistic discussions related to emerging technologies, targeting the wrong.

To me, the problem is not the emerging technologies, but not using them enough for good. Do you remember that I said I am expecting scientist/researchers to be brave? Brave to say things that the society is not ready to hear. Yes, to call non-living systems as living systems and reclaiming what living means is brave. But I expect us to be brave to act on issues related to the living. To make the long story short, the robots will be around us, yes (they are already here), there will be intelligent systems all around us (like we have them today), things will get more automated and autonomous (like we use them today, knowingly or unknowingly), they will change the understanding of the world, and shape how we learn, teach and live. Furthermore, they are the only hope, in my opinion, to make this place better. So, instead of getting defensive and trying to paint dark future scenarios, we should concentrate on how we can use these opportunities to end wars, to distribute the wealth more fairly, to put democracy to work and to change the world for the better.

We can only do this, though, by knowing how they work, how they are designed, what they can do and demand them to be ethical, sustainable and trustworthy. It is never late, let’s start to do it now!

P.S. These are my thoughts for this weekend. If they happen to change or diverse to something else, I will update this post. In case, the super ultra mega AI rules the world and lead to gigadeath, you will have more important things to consider than my little blog post, anyways.