By Saikat Mookherjee, AVP-Research & Consulting, CMR and Vishaal Bhatnagar, AVP-Public Sector Practice, CyberMedia
London, UK: “Prof Stephen Hawking, one of world’s pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence”
Delhi, India: “Young woman allegedly raped by Uber cab driver in Delhi”
Peshawar, Pakistan: “Over 140 students and teachers massacred by terrorists in a Peshawar school in Pakistan”
Three dismal pieces of ‘news’, all emanating from different people and / or different places around the globe in the past few weeks, struck us as being potentially scary or, in the latter two cases caused outright indignation and outrage.
They brought back to mind the ominous statement often found in old English texts – “Science is a good Servant, but a Bad Master.” While the first statement shows how rapidly we are progressing along the path of technological evolution, the second and the third incidents showed how susceptible we are as individuals or, even as a large group, when technology is misused by those with a criminal bent of mind or, abused by depraved groups to achieve their despicable objectives. The last two are chilling reminders that our efforts to make life convenient for ourselves or our families and / or communities can be violently and tragically disrupted by those who do not respect individual liberties or the right to pursue freedoms guaranteed by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrined in the constitutions of even the most ill-functioning democracy.
Science and Technology have the potential to address our pressing needs and wants, especially affordable healthcare and low-cost drugs, education, clean energy and transportation, boosting agricultural production or improving dairy farming. This is even truer of poorer countries such as India, Pakistan and large parts of the ‘southern’ world. In fact, India has emerged as a force to reckon with, in technology research & development, as a market for innovative new products and services, and even as a large potential market for luxury goods going forward. Our scientists created history by sending a spacecraft to Mars at a cost lower than that required to produce a Hollywood blockbuster. Other countries such as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, Uganda, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and others have also made rapid strides in adopting new technologies to meet the needs of their growing populations. Then why is it that we falter ever so often, when it comes to uprooting social evils. Why does an incident like the Uber cab rape of a young woman in Delhi or, the massacre of innocent children in Peshawar happen every now and then? Not only does it remind us of the shameful, dark periods in human history, of wars, genocide, droughts and famines, it also makes us introspect deeply and question the effectiveness of the current socio-political order and education system. Can technology help to address these age-old problems that rear their heads time and again? Or are we expecting too much from technology?
Let us travel back a couple of centuries and compare the means and machinery we have acquired vis-à-vis what was not even imagined then. We have made tremendous progress on all fronts – we travel by bullet trains or commute by metro rail; we zip across continents in jet aircraft in the matter of a few hours; we speak and text and do much more via our smartphones; from simple gadgets in the kitchen such as toasters and ovens and juicer-mixer-grinders to complex machinery in industries, and high-end scientific apparatus such as The Hadron Collider of CERN and Weather Prediction Models, we have perpetuated much to make our lives comfortable. Vaccines and antibiotics and implants have revolutionised medicine and healthcare; pest-resistant, high yield crops have made large scale droughts a thing of the past, and TV and the Internet have revolutionised learning. There has been a flip side as well – we are still reeling from the after-effects of use of technology for waging violence – be it the Second World War, the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the Gulf Wars, the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, or more recently the Civil War in Syria and ISIS-led conflict in Iraq. War, civic unrest, riots and uprisings are all examples of how the socio-economic order put in place by the rich and the powerful have ever so often failed to protect or restrain greedy, power-hungry cliques or irresponsible law officers from harassing or murdering individuals or thousands of innocent, peace-loving inhabitants. Horrific uses of technology such as nerve gas or plastic explosives do not respect any religion or any political or social boundaries. Such instances of forceful deployment and irresponsible use of technology need to be condemned strongly by all.
What could be the solution here? The answer, in our view is very simple – it is “us”. We have to behave as responsible human beings, with respect for viewpoints that may be different from ours, without adopting abusive or violent means of opposition. We have to stop believing that “technology can think for us” and is capable of solving all our problems on its own. Only by socially responsive, environmentally-aware actions that are accountable to the individual citizen, can we ensure a bright future where technology is used only for human benefit and development and not as a weapon of mass destruction or, to abuse or intimidate persons or groups. ‘Customer centricity’ cannot be and must never be at the cost of “citizen centricity”.
We would like to end with three quotes from Isaac Asimov, the great Russian-American writer and biochemist, who was a prolific author and editor of science fiction and non-fiction, to sum up the essence of what and how technology should be used:
#1: I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them. – Isaac Asimov
#2: The Three Laws of Robotics
“One, a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
Three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.”
– Isaac Asimov, Frontispiece from “I, Robot”, 1950
#3: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” – Isaac Asimov, Salvor Hardin in “Foundation”
With those thoughts, we wish you, your team, your vendors, your customers and all those who help make technology or the business of technology ‘click’ for you a very peaceful and happy Festive Season.
All of us at CMR wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!