Technology is a tool, not a magic wand. Its value and capacity to improve our quality of life depends on how it is used.
Therefore, like a tool, the task in handling technology will be to separate the appropriate uses from the inappropriate uses, the positive applications from the negative. But first, how will we define “appropriate” and “inappropriate”? Will what is positive for some be negative for others?
One explanation for the Fermi Paradox is that within a century of achieving a certain level of technological development, all intelligent species inevitably destroy themselves via war or environmental contamination.
Luckily, however, technology is a tool, and in addition to certain death, intelligent species also have a more optimistic choice: to overcome self-annihilation by accepting our inherently destructive capacity and adequately regulating technologies to prevent their use for ddestructive purposes.
The message is that failure to adequately regulate the technology will most likely result in its misuse, and its misuse will most likely result in destructive consequences.
Although this veritable tsunami of innovation in the form of “disruptive” technologies is set to revitalize the world, the image of entire economic sectors being automated scares a number of economists.
Economist and founder of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab, for example, holds the viewt that the future of Industry 4.0 will shake the foundations of society. Schwab’s concerns reflect exactly why Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are considered disruptive; he sees that the next-gen technologies are not compatible with our current financial paradigm, and if not properly addressed by governments and private sector players alike, too quick of a change could wreak havoc on the financial system
“This does not, however mean that technology is inherently evil or inevitably destructive – it means that technology is a mirror for it’s user. “
What should we keep in mind for as head toward the next chapter in industrial history?
1. Just Because we can Doesn’t Mean we Should
An autonomous, lethal weapon capable of destroying targets without the need for human decision making: a common fear associated with Industry 4.0 is artificial intelligences quickly becoming out of hand.
Throughout the history of life on Earth, difficulty or need are what spurr innovation more often than not. However, design is at the intersection of art and science and the humanity is characterized by the tendancy to create and destroy, even when we don’t need to.
We must accept that increasing humanity’s technological capacity means potentially increasing its capacity to do destructive things with that technology. This does not, however mean that technology is inherently evil or inevitably destructive – it means that technology is a mirror for it’s user.
Still, some experts insist that we can’t trust outselves with technology, and that we must consider banning certain innovations to prevent the eventuality of a Judgement Day.
Rather than total prohibition, the key will be adequate regulation. Just because we can make the mother of all bombs doesn’t mean we must, or that we even should. And, if we’re thinking about it, we need to seriously ask ourselves why: Discovery is often an accident, but innovation always has a goal.
Therefore, we will have to clearly define our priorities, and apply technology to helping us best meet them.
2. Endless Possibilities on a Case-by-Case Basis
New innovations will offer us ways to enhance ourselves as well as our environment. We may discover ways to enhance our intelligence, dexterity, and tinker with our life-expectancy. We may even completely do away with congenital diseases.
Rather than approving or banning all enhancements, we should assess each innovation uniquely based on its individual contribution to our overall quality of life and productive capactiy.
“Discovery is often an accident, but innovation always has a goal.”
3. More Comprehensive Testing
Like every discovery starts with a question, every innovative project carries uncertainties. Therefore, the Scientific Method will remain just as relavant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution as it was in the First: standards of testing and trial procedures will become more rigorous and comprehensive, and like with any new project, a feasibility study should take place to address all aspects of the project.
Thus, innovations should be assessed based on their commercial viability, as is generally the standard now; instead, utility will be measured in terms of potential risks as well constructive capacity, in terms of efficiency.
Take, for example, Oxitec, the developers of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the population of disease-carrying subjects in the wild. This innovation based in next-gen technologies clearly has enormous potential to improve humanity’s quality of life as a whole and initial figures are impressive.
However, the company has not yet received full permission from authories for their testing in Brazil nor has sufficient data been published to show the long-term effects of the project.
“One of the most pressing government concerns will be how to effectively allocate substantial resources to ensure new technologies are kept in check.”
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine encourages innovation in technologies like gene-editing, but calls for such technologies to be treated with great care. Therefore, genetically modified organisms should be extensively tested in small, laboratory settings before considering their release into the wild.
4. Enforcing Regulations
While there are regulations in place on toxic chemicals management, for example, insufficient public funds often translate to an inability to completely enforce them.
Effectively enforcing such regulations would require a monitoring body and experts to inspect chemical sites as well as highly specialized safety and testing equipment that all add up quickly on increasingly limited state budgets.
Therefore, one of the most pressing government concerns will be how to sufficiently allocate substantial resources to ensure new technologies are kept in check.
The Crux of the Future is not Science, but Ethics
At the heart of these four important considerations are not measurables nor statistics.
Instead, to construct a healthy technological future, we will have to engage in open discussions about their values and morals with regard to regulating future technologies. Anxiety is only natural with rapid change and mismanagement, controversy, and heated debate will likely cloud the image of Industry 4.0’s future – at least in the short-term.
We must not let that deter us from being honest with ourselves about our capabilities – positive and negative – or from having open discussions about regulating the next step in our technological advancement.
If we fail to properly regulate the tools that Industry 4.0 has endowed our species with, humanity may not make it to Industry 5.0.