I recently received a note from one of my readers regarding racism. As someone who has leveraged my anchor visual, he recognized racism as a societal issue in the middle of it. As depicted, societal issues create tension that drives the progression of two curves: the science and technology foundation, and the future scenarios spawned by convergence across the visual. This tension happens in both directions, as the curves also impact the path of society. This individual explored one of those tensions, namely, the use of technology to address systemic racism. In his words: “I find the problem to be one of the most difficult to solve through just laws and politics. I really think that technology can help.”
He went on to provide examples that I found very insightful, so I decided to share his insights via this post. Every journey we take to the future brings both fascination and fear – and this topic is no different. This fact is evident in the examples. For instance, he explored the potential of AI to weed out racial profiling by taking human biases out of the equation – but the potential exists to exacerbate the problem if we apply our biases to the application of AI. As we look at a scenario where humans converge with machines, the possibility may exist to “program out” racism and other bigotry. Scary? He touches on a phenomenon that sits at the heart of a series of societal issues: the exposure that we all have to societal ills that have always existed but were not visible to the masses. He references that the single most effective weapon against racism has been the smart phone. I could add that exposure to hunger in Africa, the aftermath of natural disasters, and the various cultures of our world was enabled by our connectivity. Our eyes have been opened – and technology enabled it.
It likely does not end with exposure, but with the application of technology to combat, in this case, racism. Can smart cities help through a broad 5G-enabled real-time video monitoring? If it does, are we now closer to a surveillance state? Can innovations like smart ink ensure the right perpetrator is apprehended by leaving an invisible mark that can be analyzed by an infrared scanner? He gets creative with some of his thinking. For example, what if smart weapons block the ability to shoot while someone is running away with their back turned? Can the Internet of Things combine with biometrics to provide data that tracks emotions, mood, heart rate, etc., to proactively tell if a situation is getting out of control? Should we disable the ability to turn off body cameras? Do our cars need built-in dash cams and internal 360-degree cameras? Will better body armor for police reduce the human reaction to fear?
The point of his note was to take as much of the human emotion out of the critical interaction at the heart of the current discussion: the interaction between police and citizens. What do you think? Is technology a potential solution, or do you take pause at the potential for unintended consequences? As we look at the breadth of opportunity afforded by accelerated advancements, this question will be asked frequently. As a way to demonstrate the sheer potential of science and technology, I use an exploded version of the that curve on the visual above. We have the potential to solve some of the major challenges that have plagued humanity for centuries – but at the same time, we may just create some new ones. For example, we can draw a direct connection between the visibility afforded by connectivity – and the societal unrest we are currently experiencing. We have a lot to think about.