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Technology and it’s role in society

There is more to technology than the satisfaction of a personal or a business need. Technology has always had a profound impact on society. Today, it is changing the ways we live and manage our lives at a very fast pace. Many of the challenges emanating from such rapid change call for social decisions and coping mechanisms. The broad category of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a case in point. Is AI improving or taking over our lives? The responses from experts in a New York Times article on December 6 include micro views as well as thoughts on the big picture. Nnedi Okorafor (scifi writer) tells us that giant, humanoid, solar-powered robots stationed at key intersections are already policing the streets of Kinshasa, Congo. They do the job of four traffic lights and also monitor drivers round the clock. And “they don’t accept bribes”. She expects robot cops will be upgraded and they will multiply to unclog all traffic-crippled cities. Shauna Mei (founder of AHALife) says human augmented AI helps you save time and make more discerning purchases. Neil Harbisson (cyborg artist) argues we can merge our bodies with technology, adding new senses and organs and so take an active part in the birth of our future selves. Faith Popcorn (author) wonders whether, with our minds freed from the drudgery of work, we may revel in a new Golden Age? Susan Bennett (voice actress) remarks we will no longer have to use our brains so much. Maybe our new intelligent creatures won’t hate each other. But will they be able to create art, music, literature ... comedy? Gary Kasparov (former world chess champion) thinks intelligent machines also liberate us from tedious labour, letting us be more imaginative and ambitious. We are very good at teaching our machines to do our old jobs, so let’s keep inventing new ones. The only job security for the human race is to press into the new and the unknown. Joi Ito (director of MIT media lab) calls for a new kind of computer science that creates technologies that are not only ‘smart’ but also socially responsible. If we allow extended intelligence to develop without thoughtfully managing how it integrates with, and affects, society, it could be used to amplify dangerous biases and entities. Innovation brings change and progress. It has had an immensely beneficial effect on the progress of mankind and indeed continues to do so. It also happens within specific social contexts and it can only be as good as the society that generates and deploys it, and which innovation itself modifies and transforms. It is not just a game for rugged individualists.

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