Table of Contents:
- a. New Business Opportunities
- b. The End of Geographic Barriers
- a. Introduction
- b. The Privacy Threat
- c. The Security Threat
ii. Corporate Espionage
- a. Cyber-War and Cyber-Terrorism
- b. Automated Warfare
- a. Digital Technology in the Hands of Revolutionaries
- b. Digital Technology in the Hands of Autocratic and Authoritarian Governments
- a. Digital Technology in Emergency Relief
- b. Digital Technology in the Short-Term Aftermath of a Crisis
- c. Digital Technology in Long-Term Rebuilding
Many of us living in the developed world have come to rely very heavily on digital technology (including the internet and our mobile/smart devices)—indeed, for many of us, our relationship with our various screens is nothing short of addiction. And we are not the only ones who are plugging in. We are also increasingly hooking up our various man-made systems (such as our infrastructural systems and financial systems) to the internet as well. Given how radically digital technology has transformed our lives, it is incredible to think how recently all of this change has occurred; for, indeed, all of this technology has come upon us entirely in the past 15 to 20 years. This is significant because it reminds us that the age of connectivity is but in its infancy, and that most of the changes are yet to come.
This is true for us here in the developed world, but is even more so the case for those living in the developing world, where almost 5 billion people are expected to go from no connectivity to full connectivity within the next 20 years. While it may well be the case that the overall impact of the connectivity revolution will be enormously beneficial, we would be fool to think that the impact will be none but positive. With forces such as criminals, rebel groups, terrorists and rogue states prepared to take advantage of the new technology, the connectivity revolution poses some very serious challenges as well. Google executive Eric Schmidt and U.S. policy and media expert Jared Cohen are particularly well-placed to assess how all of the upcoming changes will play out, and in their new book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business the two let us in on their ruminations and prognostications.
Beginning closer to home, the authors chart how the new digital age stands to increase our efficiency and offer new opportunities for both business and leisure. To begin with, the two argue that most of our day to day routines and workload will be streamlined by way of being hooked up to the internet and aided by various artificial intelligence machines. Over and above this, consider some of the extravagant possibilities: imagine attending a 9 a.m. teleconference with business associates from around the world in a 3D virtual space, where each individual’s comments are translated into your native language near perfectly, and near instantaneously. In the evening you enter a different 3D virtual space that captures a sporting event in real-time. After that you enjoy a holographic recreation of your wedding with your spouse.
As much as we will come to rely on the internet and other smart technologies, there is a significant drawback to all of this high-technology, and that is that more and more of our personal information will be captured and stored than ever. Much of this information will be available for anyone who is interested to see (friend and foe alike), and even more of it will be accessible with a bit of underhanded effort.
On the side of government, its operations, like our own, will be streamlined by way of being brought online—including in the realm of physical infrastructure (i.e. water, sanitation and power). In addition, the data streams captured from our own activity and that of our systems will grant us new insights into our behavior that can be put to good use by governments and businesses alike. On the negative side, all of this information in the hands of government (and potentially in the hands of savvy criminals, terrorists and enemy states) poses significant privacy and security concerns (both authors foresee cyber-crime, cyber-terrorism, and cyber-war being significant issues in the future). Rest assured that a very robust cyber-security industry will emerge, and that the conflict between privacy and security will continue to play out in a very prominent way.
As digital technology continues to spread to the poorest parts of the world, new economic opportunities will spread in its wake that will help pull these parts of the world out of poverty—and also aid in the push towards more democracy. However, criminal and extremist groups operating there will also increasingly be given access to the new technology, and it stands to help both in their enterprises. On the bright side, digital technology will also make it easier to track down and uncover illegal syndicates and bring them to justice.
Here are Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen discussing their new book on PBS News Hour:
What follows is a full executive summary of The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.
PART I: THE NEW DIGITAL AGE ON THE DOMESTIC FRONT
1. Increased Efficiency in Our Daily Routines
Beginning on the home-front, the authors argue that the new digital age promises to usher in a world of impressive efficiencies. Take house chores, for example. Technology will not only help with the planning of these domestic necessities (loc. 356), but will also perform many of them for us. As the authors explain, “the average American consumer will find it affordable to own a handful of different multipurpose robots fairly soon. The technology in iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner, the progenitor of this field of consumer ‘home’ robots (first introduced in 2002), will only become more sophisticated and multipurpose in time. Future varieties of home robots should be able to handle other household duties, electrical work and even plumbing issues with relative ease” (loc. 380).
Moving beyond house-chores, digital technology will also help us with virtually all of the mundane activities that we are required to plan out and do on a day to day basis (such as grocery shopping, powering up our cars and various devices etc). Much of this will be the result of the ubiquitous presence of smart devices that will all be integrated with one another, and with which we will interact through sophisticated voice-recognition software, and even thought-controlled motion technology (both of which are advancing quickly [loc. 383-87, 400]). As the authors explain, “centralizing the many moving parts of one’s life into an easy-to-use, almost intuitive system of information management and decision making will give our interactions with technology an effortless feel… these systems will free us of many small burdens—including errands, to-do-lists and assorted ‘monitoring’ tasks—that today add stress and chip away at our mental focus throughout the day” (loc. 359).
When it comes to transportation, self-driving cars (which are already legal in 2 states [loc. 473]) will take care of much of this for us, leaving us free to work (or play) at other things (loc. 473). While the prospect of self-driving cars is certainly exciting for those of us living and working in the city, the biggest impact of these vehicles will be on the transport and trucking industry. For example, the authors ask us to “imagine the possibilities for long-haul truck-driving. Rather than testing the biological limits of human drivers with thirty-hour trips, the computer can take over the primary responsibility and drive the truck for stretches as the driver rests” (loc. 478).
Here is a nice clip about Google’s driverless car from the BBC:
2. Leisure and Entertainment
Beyond offering us efficiency in our day to day routines, the new digital age also promises us many new possibilities in the area of leisure and entertainment. To begin with, the authors assure us that we will be presented us with an abundant supply of music and video content at very low cost (if not free), and with the content providers duly paid for their output. As the authors explain, “contemporary services like Spotify, which offers a large catalog of live-streaming music for free, give us a sense of what the future will look like: an endless amount of content, available anytime, on almost any device, and at little or no cost to users, with copyrights and revenue streams preserved” (loc. 526). (Just how revenue streams will be preserved where entertainment is offered for free is not discussed—nor do the authors address how the issue of pirating might play out—two glaring omissions in a book that is meant to explore the future of the digital age).
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