I had a chance to talk with Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever, the authors of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future. Their book is a thoroughly eye-opening read — with a cautionary message about today’s unprecedented technological advancements. As Wadhwa and Salkever warn, some innovations may take us places we don’t want to go, so we need to steer with care through the changes.
What should be we aware of as we navigate technological change?
This is the most amazing and scary period in human history. Technology is making science fiction a reality. To ensure that we build the utopia of Star Trek rather than the dystopia of Mad Max, we must consider whether or not these technologies have the potential to benefit everyone equally. We need to find a balance between their risks and rewards. And we must decide whether they promote autonomy or dependence.
Fairness and equality are at the heart of these questions. Many technologies are going to disrupt present-day industries, causing our lives to change for the better and for the worse. One consequence will be the loss of tens of millions of jobs. If we manage that loss equitably, and ease the transition and pain for the people most affected and least prepared, we can get to Star Trek. The alternative is Mad Max.
What’s an example of an emerging technology to be wary of?
It’s not one technology, but everything happening at the same time. We could, within a few decades, be in an era of abundance, in which we live long and healthy lives, have unlimited clean energy and education, and have our most basic wants and needs met. Because of these advances, it’s becoming possible to solve the grand challenges of humanity: hunger, disease, education and energy.
But every technology has a dark side. As easily as we can edit genes, we can create killer viruses. Self-driving cars can solve all sorts of mobility issues, but they can also eliminate tens of thousands of jobs. And we could lose whatever is left of our privacy as connected devices take over our homes.
Why should we be concerned about the “technology triad” — software, data connectivity, and handheld computing?
This is what enables the amazing and disruptive technological changes we’re seeing. Everything is becoming digitized, monitored and recorded. The increasing capabilities of computers and decreasing costs apply to more and more fields. Even we humans are being digitized, with genomic sequencing and sensors that monitor our functioning.
The good news is we can now solve the problems of disease, and we’ll have artificial intelligence-based assistants taking the role of doctors and advising us on our health. But every aspect of our lives and bodily functions are being watched and recorded. It’s likely there aren’t too many people looking forward to having their bathroom scale tell their refrigerator not to order any cheesecake.
Is the public mistaken in thinking that consumer groups or regulating agencies are gauging and limiting the risks of new innovations?
If you look at the vote House Republicans took to allow your internet service provider to sell your information to the highest bidder — without your permission — you can see where this is headed. Our political leaders don’t understand the impacts of technology, and they act in the interests of companies that provide political patronage. We need consumers to understand and speak up. That’s the point the book makes — that we must understand technology advances and make the choices. It’s up to use to tell our leaders what we want. It shouldn’t be the other way around.
To learn more, visit Wadhwa.com.