Does technology actually make our lives better? Or are we hurtling towards a robot revolution?

19 March 2018

New technology is exciting. Past innovations such as, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb have all vastly changed the way humans communicate, travel and vacation.

But along with the obvious positive changes that these, and other innovations have had on our lives, there has been mounting evidence that suggests a more sinister side to new technology. Facebook has been linked to cyberbullying and terrorism. Uber has been accused of sexism in the workplace and exploitation of its employees. Airbnb has impacted communities and has been accused of flouting taxation and health and safety regulations.

Surely then, the question we ask of new technology should be: What is the human impact?

In February, I was lucky enough to attend the 2018 Pausefest conference, held in Melbourne. The conference brings together visionary thinkers from across the globe to discuss the latest innovations in the three pillars of Pausefest: Technology, creativity and business.

I know that in the Territory we are often on the fringe of receiving new technologies. Our wariness of change can result in a slower uptake of technological advances, even those which could drastically improve the lives of people across the Territory.

But are we right to be sceptical?

Hosted by the team at the Darwin Innovation Hub, Rigani’s Humanising Innovation presentation drew on the ideas and insights from the Pausefest conference that resonated with me. I invited members of the Darwin business community and government to join the presentation and share in a discussion of the potential benefits of new technology, as well as some possible side effects.

Far from advocating for all new technology as a force for good, I presented a deeper examination of new ideas, and discussed the possible human impact that they could have, both positive and negative.

How will automation affect a teenager’s job prospects?
How can virtual reality help a nurse locate empty beds in a hospital?
How can creativity and technology combine to make products and services more inclusive?

But possibly the most crucial question that was explored in Humanising Innovation was: Will artificial intelligence ever surpass human intelligence?

Thankfully, it seems that science has not yet managed to equip A.I. with the very human trait of empathy, and there is a long way to go before the emotional intelligence of A.I. is in any way close to our own. The notion of a robot revolution is the stuff of science fiction, but what is of real concern is how the advances in A.I. and automation will change the employment landscape in the next few years. What are the skills needed to be employable in the wake of huge technological change?

But what of the positive aspects of A.I.? Applications in the field of medicine could be exponential, bringing significant benefit to patients. We cannot definitively say how technology will shape our future. Positive advances may come with unintended consequences, which may adversely affect our lives. But instead of closing ourselves off to new technology, we are wise to prepare ourselves for change, so that we may face uncertainty with certainty.

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