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The tech threat


June 20, 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a series of algorithms designed to improve the performance of robots by making it possible for them to learn from their surroundings. As AI increasingly autonomises formerly human-managed objects like cars and factory assembly lines, it displaces not only millions of workers employed in repetitive jobs like driving and assembling products, but white-collar employees, too. With the Internet of Things expanding into the physical realm, you’ll find yourself encountering AI-enhanced objects more often, especially in service industries.

Replacing humans with robotic transactions delivered in unthreatening lilts, AI will further contribute to our de-socialisation, and feed the self-absorption and narcissism fuelled by Internet-powered consumerism.

Augmented Reality (AR) will overlay information onto the naked world, earning its wearers social, professional and other edges over those sticking to the boring old reality. Soon, augmenting your surroundings will become as essential as a cellphone if you want to participate in employed living.

Projectors and screens will be done away as spreadsheets and calendars are ‘shared’ with colleagues during work meetings by superimposing them over reality.       

Nanobot implants will connect journalists to the internet, allowing them to dispense with cameras and use their own eyes and ears to film interviews, or perform real-time background checks on people they have just met. Soldiers will view aerial perspectives of the complex they’re about to assault, streamed from hovering drones, while supporting engineers thousands of miles away broadcast 3D immersive designs of the complex and its occupants direct to the soldiers’ vision. Later, the soldiers themselves will be replaced by agile robots, as the debate over the permissibility of lethal killing machines is won by those arguing for using them against conveniently dehumanised ‘terrorists’.

The element of surprise or enchantment in everyday life – as indispensable a part of being human as missing someone or feeling melancholy – will be even further retrenched, replaced by accumulating, awkward time-outs: motionless figures in public spaces, apparently present, but absorbed in a private, incommunicable world.

Potentially, the greatest game-changer is Blockchain (BC). It leverages the power of an online distributed ledger system in creating an all-encompassing, entirely interconnected digital grid that can be used to assess participants on a staggering tally of issues. Though open to authoritarian abuse, this tool would also enable individuals to delink themselves from the arbitrariness of the nation-state organising principle. BC could be used to assess our environmental footprint more completely than is now possible and opens the door to new forms of democracy, the abolition of banks and other intermediaries, and a new global taxation system based not on our income but our impact on Planet Earth.

Supplementary technologies such as ambient computing – always-on, hands-off computing peripherals that allow speech-powered typing and automatic forms of identification – will be premised on a context of permanent activity. Soon, turning on the computer or fishing your phone out of your pocket will no longer be a precondition to being online.

As millions of people – mostly older, unskilled monolinguals – find themselves thrust into a world where they are nothing but surplus or collateral damage in the ongoing technological sprint, they may come to depend on another two, just-round-the-corner innovations to cushion their obsolescence: a Universal Basic Income (UBI) providing participants, whether employed or not, with a guaranteed salary; and the seductively immersive worlds of Virtual Reality (VR).

UBI is already a thing, with trials running on all continents aside from Australia and Antarctica. Switzerland put the idea to referendum last year, but its wealthy citizens rejected it for fear that introducing a guaranteed income would lead to the country being overrun by immigrants. Finally, there is VR, the most widely-available of all these technologies. Hailed as a reality-suspending innovation exceeding even the invention of the moving image, it is poised to go mainstream this year.


This article has been excerpted from: ‘The tech threat: Moving towards a dystopian future’.