More and more of our world is linked to, or influenced by, technology every day. While some innovations enrich our lives, solve difficult problems, and help us connect, others raise a number of questions and consequences that have yet to be resolved.
As technology becomes increasingly present and powerful, we must be more aware of how it is being used and its potential risks. It is clear that technology is changing our world; what remains to be understood is how we ethically manage these changes and use technology to shape a more socially just, safe, and sustainable future.
We divide the impacts of technology into six primary social and world issues, which we believe will be of the greatest importance in the coming years.
The increasing role of automation, machine production, and artificial intelligence are significantly changing the landscape of employment. A number of jobs once done by humans are increasingly being outsourced to machines. One Oxford study estimates that due to automation and enhanced technology, 47% of US jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete over the next 1-2 decades, which, if fewer employment alternatives emerge, could contribute to increased inequality.
As machines replace human labor and an increasing number of processes become automated, production costs begin to approach zero. Combined with an abundance of information that is freely shared and an increase in open source material, this signals that the foundations of our economy are changing. An evolution in our understanding of value and of the future of the economic system must follow. This will require urgent thinking, preparation, and collaboration in order to avoid increased inequality and an imbalance of power.
Our advances in technology have a profound impact on our natural resources and the sustainability of our planet, both of which are increasingly under pressure. Pollution, consumption, waste, and an increased population—each enabled by advanced technology—are accelerating climate change. The human impact on earth is so extensive that experts have suggested a new geological era has begun, characterized by nuclear tests and plastic pollution.
Every day, more parts of our lives are moved online and connected to the internet. Our private and public information is stored, tracked, monitored, measured, and used for a variety of purposes. With so much of our data accessible to corporations, governments, and third parties, important questions are arising about what this means for our personal privacy, freedom, and human rights. As the amount of such information continues to grow, data collection, measurement, and surveillance are increasingly relevant issues requiring increased transparency and regulation.
There is growing concern that artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential risk‐defined as an event that has the potential to have a catastrophic effect on humanity. AI experts estimate that artificial general intelligence (AGI)‐the point at which machines will match human learning and problem solving‐is likely to be developed in the next several decades. Artificial superintelligence (ASI)‐which will infinitely surpass human levels of intelligence‐will follow. The unknown impact of building machines that exceed human intelligence, along with the complex moral and ethical problems they bring about, require safe and measured consideration of AI development.
In addition to the world and social issues above, we are all directly affected by technology every day. The prevalence of and reliance on devices means we are rarely far from screens or digital technology of some sort. We live our lives constantly connected, flooded with information, and distracted while attempting to keep up with both our real and virtual worlds. The effect of technology on our physical, cognitive, and mental health, as well as on our relationships, identity, and self esteem, are areas of ongoing research and concern.