You’re probably wondering just what one means by invisible technologies to begin with. The two top invisible technologies of today are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain. Their combined and individual effects on society and our global economies are and will be profound. Perhaps even more so than the internet itself. So why are they invisible?
Until recently, almost all technologies developed by humans have been visible; wheels, hammers, trains, planes, cars, smartphones, computers, tablets and so on. They were all designed to augment our physical world. Hauling around people, building shelter, flittering us across oceans and continents. They have been easily understood. We did not have to create analogies and metaphors to understand what their purpose was and their benefit.
The cognitive constructs of cultures, religion, politics, rule of law and social behaviours are all things we had to create analogies for. The Bible or Q’oran is a primary example of using analogies to create stories of how a society might or should function.
To some degree, the internet is an invisible technology as well. So is social media. We’ve spent over two decades creating and telling stories about the internet and now over a decade since social media rose to prominence, we are still figuring it out.
Invisible technologies are those that are not really visual. They will have feedback elements to them, such as a Google Home or Alexa having little lights that flash when you speak to it and responding to your request. Even Siri and Cortana have both visual and audio cues.
But the technology behind them, AI, is essentially invisible to us. Even Facebook or LinkedIn uses algorithms, a degree of AI, to engage with us, to draw us in, though it cheapens the potential experience (but that’s another post!)
The challenge for AI and Blockchain is that these technologies can be deployed fast and behind the scenes. We may often not even realize when AI is being used or how it is being used. A door opens, a fridge orders milk, a job is denied or an interview granted, a loan granted or denied.
Blockchain can certify who we are as individuals, give us control of our personal data or undeniably give us rights to a piece of property or deny criminals access to illegal funds, control money laundering. Or expose theft attempts. Combined with AI, we could be denied insurance or loans. Or granted them.
Both of these technologies are relatively new on the scene and we can’t yet know the uses, good and bad, that they will be put to. But they, like every other technology, will have both good and bad uses and implications. A hammer can build a home, but it can also destroy it. Both AI and blockchain can do social good and cause immense harm.
We’re going to need a framework for postulating the good and bad use cases for invisible technologies. Such a framework will be derived most likely from massive failures. The rise of data breaches and misuse of data have gained the ear of governments and regulations and laws such as the GDPR and Canada’s duty to notify have come into effect. But it wasn’t until companies and people lost millions of dollars and law suits came hurrying in.
AI and Blockchain are inevitable technologies and can do wonders for economies and societies. They can save lives and make life better. The opportunities are staggering. But we will make some mistakes, that is inevitable. How we handle them is the challenge. How we address invisible technologies before they cause damage will be quite interesting. The warnings of the dangers and risks of AI have been sounded by the likes of Elon Musk and Bill Gates. Governments have yet to really respond. But eventually, they will.