Technology is a force for peace and prosperity. Don’t let its challenges obscure this

Technology UN News 2018

UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya Women learning to code at a technology centre in Herat, western Afghanistan.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jean-Marc Frangos, Chief Innovation Officer, BT, United Kingdom

The American biologist E.O. Wilson observed of the modern world that we are “drowning in information, while starving for wisdom”.

As a technologist, this sentence sits uncomfortably with me. I believe in the power of technology to improve lives, bring people closer together, remove barriers, give everyone a voice and create possibilities.

Technology, especially the always-on communications sort that companies like my own have played an active role in developing over the last century, often means that information finds us, rather than the other way around.

And we’re not always equipped to cope with it – to filter it, make sense of it and use it in a way that’s helpful, not overwhelming. It sometimes feels that humans need to grow a new sixth digital sense to add to our original set.

There are, undoubtedly, reasons to be concerned about the impact of our information-driven society regarding the way that we, as humans, interact and relate to each other, exemplified by the growing awareness of “fake news” and the use of social media to manipulate elections.

They raise big questions about whose voices we should listen to. How do we differentiate between objective truths and subjective opinion? Has our obsession with easy-to-digest factoids reduced our ability to analyze and critically assess the information we receive?

These are all legitimate, sensible questions to be asking.

Research this year found that 95% of teens in the United States now have access to a smartphone, and almost half say they are nearly always online. Worryingly, 25% believe that the impact of these technologies is largely negative, reflecting many of the concerns that we, as adults, have about the world we’ve played a part in creating.

But here’s the thing. It’s not possible to uninvent mobile phones, or the internet, or optical fibres. And, really, would we want to? Because for every new issue that our connected world throws up, there are 10 reasons why our lives are enhanced, improved and enriched by technology, especially communications and IT.

We’re more connected to each other than ever before, and technology has given us more power as individuals than at any other time in recorded history. A single person’s perspective can be read by millions, winning hearts and changing minds worldwide. Over the last decade, social channels have played an active, even pivotal, role in popular uprisings against authoritarian or abusive regimes; they’ve helped provide recognition, publicity and growth to millions of small enterprises, lifting people out of poverty; and given oppressed or ignored minorities a chance to be heard by politicians and journalists across the globe.

For many of us today, that technology is commonplace. It helps us to be there for the things that matter – our friends, our family, our passions. It brings people together in ways that were inconceivable a few generations ago. Technology has shrunk the world, and I believe that while we mustn’t blinker ourselves to the challenges this brings, they are far outweighed by the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

We only have to look at the medical field. Using modern high-speed networks, doctors are now able to consult with patients in their own homes, taking information feeds from connected heart monitors, blood-pressure machines and oxygen sensors; there are emerging technologies that can measure your heartbeat by simply looking at you through a webcam.

BT recently conducted a trial with King’s College London and Ericsson on how doctors using “haptic” gloves can control a robotic arm via a high-speed 5G network to perform diagnosis, maybe even surgery, remotely. This may be some way from being robust enough to use outside the lab, but today’s science can become tomorrow’s reality.

Even in the home, technologies are playing an increasingly important role in making our lives easier. This may seem a trivial example, but a few weeks ago during a meeting, a colleague received a video call, not from a human being, but from his front-door bell. He was able to chat to a delivery driver face to face, remotely unlock his front door using a wifi-enabled lock and ask the driver to leave the package inside. Now imagine how important these technologies could be to you if you had vulnerable or elderly relatives living some distance away who might need vital supplies delivering.

A lot has been written about the so-called internet of things, artificial intelligence, and machine-to-machine communications; devices talking to each other and working together to improve our lives. I’d be the first to admit that we still have a long way to go to maximize the impact of these applications. But I believe that they have the potential to be transformational. For me, it’s less about connected fridges and remote-controlled toasters, and more about air sensors, traffic sensors, automated remote maintenance and instrumented parking spaces. Because when the world is connected, it can give us the insight to make informed choices.

I wholeheartedly agree with another of Wilson’s observations, that “the world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely”.

Yes, technology can create a haze of white noise and information. But it also has the potential to help us cut through and make sense of that haze, empowering us in ways that we never understood were possible. It might take us a couple of generations to grow our new sixth digital sense, but the positive power of this information will help us empower the powerless, inform the uninformed, and become a force for peace and prosperity.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

The World Health Organization has called on countries to ‘test, test, test’ for coronavirus – this is why

UN Mission in Haiti calls on protestors, authorities, to refrain from violence

FROM THE FIELD: ‘Blue’ finance flows in the Seychelles

Inflation not a problem for Europe

Human Rights Council election: 5 things you need to know about it

Youth Forum welcomes European Commission proposal to speed up financing for youth employment

First aid in six months reaches families in western Yemen, ‘timelines’ slip over Hudaydah ceasefire talks

Prospect of lasting peace ‘fading by the day’ in Gaza and West Bank, senior UN envoy warns

UN health agency team in China to strengthen coronavirus response through partnership

Civil protection: Parliament strengthens EU disaster response capability

Victims’ Rights: New Strategy to empower victims

The hidden pandemic: mental illness

From inconvenience to opportunity: the importance of international medical exchanges

How LA plans to be 1.6°C cooler by 2050

Terrorist content online: companies to be given just one hour to remove it

Can medical students be prepared for Global Health ethical issues?

Environment and health at increasing risk from growing weight of ‘e-waste’

‘No safe way’ into battle-scarred Afghan city of Ghazni to deliver aid as traumatized children search for parents

Africa Forum aims to boost business, reduce costs, help countries trade out of poverty

FROM THE FIELD: Argentina Preserving Pristine Forests

Single-use plastics: New EU rules to reduce marine litter

UN rights chief urges ‘immediate dialogue’ to end Chile unrest

Inspiring medical students to choose primary health care

Here are four steps SMEs can take for long-term success

What’s behind South Korea’s elderly crime wave?

Will the three major parties retain control of the new EU Parliament?

3 ways to nurture collaboration between universities and industry

Systems leadership can change the world – but what exactly is it?

‘Real change’ involving women in peace and security, still too slow, Guterres tells Security Council

How to build a better world for heart health after COVID-19

This Japanese politician is making history – by taking paternity leave

Rohingya refugee shelters ‘washed away’ in Bangladesh monsoon rains: UN agency

How ‘savings circles’ empower women in rural Africa

DRC ‘calm but tense’ as country awaits presidential election result

5 challenges for government adoption of AI

Should Europe be afraid of the developing world?

State of the Union 2017: Juncker’s optimism about EU growth and Brexit’s impact

Eurozone’s central bank leadership prepares for shoddier prospects

In wake of ‘collapsed’ agreement, new wave of violence threatens millions in Syria’s Idlib

COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.

Eurozone: Austerity brings new political tremors

Australia’s bushfires have pumped out half a year’s CO2 emissions

Cultural tolerance is a must: “No sir, I’m not inferior!”

It takes far too long for a rare disease to be diagnosed. Here’s how that can change

5 ways governments can unleash the power of young entrepreneurs

A Sting Exclusive: “Regional Policy: a fully-fledged investment policy”, Commissioner Cretu reveals live from European Business Summit 2015

On our way to China

COVID-19: MEPs urge quick action to prevent “huge recession”

Telemedicine can be a COVID-19 game-changer. Here’s how

More progress needed on reducing and redesigning agricultural support policies

Action needed to tackle stalled social mobility

“None of our member states has the dimension to compete with China and the US, not even Germany!”, Head of EUREKA Pedro Nunes on another Sting Exclusive

On Youth Participation: Are we active citizens?

Mankind’s first tool to fight malaria also kills

Terrorist content online: MEPs agree to start negotiations with EU countries

ACP-EU : Agreement on climate change, migration and post-Cotonou

‘More time’ agreed for buffer zone, to spare three million Syrian civilians in Idlib

‘Dire consequences’ for a million children in the Middle East, North Africa, as funding dwindles

Bankruptcy or referendum: which one is going to be first?

CHINA: five letters that could mean…

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s