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Global Media and Communications Watch The International Legal Blog for the Tech, Media and Telecoms Industry
Posted in Technology Peter Watts

Talking about the future

Our cross disciplinary London “Tech Hub” last night hosted a great dinner for clients. Greg Williams, Executive Editor of WIRED led a wide ranging discussion.   Given “Chatham House rules”, here’s a purely personal perspective on the debate.

We were inspired by the next wave of technologies – from autonomous vehicles to mixed reality. We were sometimes amused by the prospect of changes in ways that we interact with technology – from a touch centric experience to one built around vision and voice. But, perhaps prompted by reflections on the events of 2016, it was striking that the focus of the discussion moved quickly from the technology itself to ways in which it is used (and potentially abused) by society.

Since the dawn of history inventors and innovators have rarely anticipated how their creations will be used. New applications of technology change the way people live and work but society has always taken time to understand those changes and to create new frameworks, often reflected in the law, to manage change in socially beneficial ways.

An era where speed of technological progress, and the ability of new technologies to spread, are accelerating exponentially sets society new challenges. Should companies whose products reach billions globally within a few short years of launch be “responsible” for the way those products are used or the jobs that they displace? Can society get ahead of the game and set rules for the coming era of Artificial Intelligence (and what happens if it doesn’t)? Does the state need to play a fundamentally different role in helping people to understand, and take a degree of control (personally or through social institutions) over technology and its application? How do we govern essentially global challenges which do not respect borders in a world where protectionist sentiments appear to be on the rise?

We see symptoms of these issues in our work every day but, too often, they remain niche topics discussed only within the “tech community”. Yet technology has become has all pervasive as money – arguably even more so. Just as we wouldn’t regard banks as the only people who should be engaged in a debate about the role of money in our economy and society, the overriding lesson from a fascinating discussion is that technology is too important to be left to technologists.