Introducing Google Duplex
In her interesting and well-written blog about Google Duplex, Lavanya Rathnam presents Google Duplex. Google’s technology enables a new Google Assistant feature of placing phone calls on your behalf, with a human voice instead of a robotic one, to complete “real tasks” for you. If you haven’t yet seen the demo of Google Duplex, view it here. Google Duplex is, in my view, an interesting milestone in technology proliferation.
The Dilemma: Good Or Bad?
Next, the author presents the technology’s upsides (business and personal) and downsides (ethical concerns, privacy), and concludes that it’s too early to tell whether this technology is a boon or a bane.
Media Reports About AI
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been advancing, media and especially numerous bloggers devote much attention to the “threat” of AI. Some raise the fear that robots will take over our jobs;
Technology Is Neither Good Nor Bad
Daniel Burrus formulated it very well in his blog post Is Technology Good or Evil? from 2012. He wrote: “Some say technology is a blessing; others say it’s a curse. Which is right? They both are. Think about it: Technology can give you cancer, and technology can cure your cancer. So it’s not about whether technology is good or bad; it’s about what we decide to do with technology that matters”.
This rationale leads to the conclusion that one must not talk about technology in terms of “good” and “bad”. One should focus on how we use technology.
Technologies At Everyone’s Fingertips
The Past: Centralization
In the past, very powerful technologies were available only to nations (i.e. Governments) with massive budgets, and large amounts of data were stored only centrally by Governments, which were seen as trusted parties (and hence there was no threat in Governments storing our data).
The Present: Proliferation
Today this reality has changed dramatically. Data about “practically everyone” is available everywhere thanks to the broad adoption of social media and mobile technology. Smart high school students or curious programmers can develop powerful software that can change the world, without massive investments. Some cases of such combined curiosity and skills result in successful commercial businesses. For example, Facebook and Google. In other cases, similar curiosity and skills end up with headlines about hackings, for
Implication: Our Ability To Control The Usage Of Technology Is Limited
The availability of powerful technologies to anyone, and most importantly the ability of an individual without massive resources to develop a technology that would have a big impact is a fact. Think about a computer virus that is distributed throughout the world via the Internet. Or software that would extract personal information and use it for organized crime, or for creating political unrest which may result in riots and revolutions. This is referred to as the asymmetry of risk (one can do major damage with only limited resources). We need to get used to the new reality in which such power is not only in the hands of central Governments. How do we deal with such a reality?
Societal Debate On What’s Right And What’s Wrong
Government Has A Responsibility As A Regulator
Thus Governments have an important role as regulator. Yet the process that results in the introduction of new laws is very long in many cases. On the other hand, technology progresses at an ever increasing speed, much faster than legislation normally does. Hence Government will also have to adapt to this new environment, and move faster. Government will have to be more pro-active in following technology developments, assessing their implications, and pro-actively developing regulations to protect citizens from abuse of technologies, or from the unintended effects of usages of technologies.
Technology Will Keep Evolving
The fact that something may be used in a bad way does not (necessarily) mean we should avoid having it. Instead, it means that we should make an effort to avoid using it in a bad way. In the case of technology, given that in today’s reality anybody with IT skills can create powerful technology applications, it is not even feasible to stop the advancement of technology.
Back To Google Duplex: Reflection
We started this blog post by introducing Google Duplex, which lead to a broader discussion on the proliferation of technology. Google is one of the most innovative and well-respected companies in today’s world, and yet also its products are subject to the societal debate about how technology is used, and where safeguards are necessary. But given Google’s position and its track record, my view is that Google is not who society should be worried about. Yes, we do need this societal debate. But at the same time bear in mind that Google’s aim is not to create unrest, to expose people or to harm individuals, groups or nations. Safeguards will be implemented, and users will be given the choice of whether and how they want to use the technology (or else Google will cease to exist as a company because its users will stop using it). We should worry more about
What are your thoughts? Add a comment below.
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