Public Square

Here’s How Technology Is Changing Our World

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Last week I began discussing the exponential growth of technology and how Christian leaders can respond to the technology of the future by recognizing biblical truths that, unlike technology, don’t change every time you blink. Today I want to continue this discussion by detailing the coming changes wrought by new technologies. The church can’t respond with wisdom unless it fully understands the changes taking place.

Exponentially-improving technologies will present many changes – or at least significant opportunities for changes. If we review business trends since the Industrial Revolution, and in particular since the post-WWII period, we can predict that future technology capabilities will have major impacts that everyone will experience:

  • Business models enabled or destroyed by new connectivity options, algorithms, decentralized financial operations, and manufacturing capability.
  • Reduced capitalization needs for large, profitable businesses.
  • Radically improved energy and transportation systems.
  • More low-skill jobs evaporate in the face of AI and robotics[1].
  • More people have expectations of living standards not dreamt of before 1900.
  • Effectively everyone will be on the digital network, an additional 3 billion people who can contribute, be customers, and compete for digital-based work.
  • The half-life of careers in one position will shrink. A college degree only means that you knew now-outdated information about something years ago, unless people actively continue learning new skills.
  • Sophisticated, near-real-time information available for and about customers based on behaviors.
  • Voice and 3D interfaces to computing will be as common as text and touch.
  • Eroding “privacy” as most people conceived it before the digital era.
  • Many decisions created by algorithms and crowd-sourcing, including in medical, legal, insurance, transportation, and facilities management.
  • Increasing value of experiences over physical possessions.
  • Sensors embedded in physical objects and construction and clothing will generate an enormous volume of real-time data useful for analysis and prediction.
  • A large network of low-orbit satellites will give us data about everywhere on the planet, every day. Digital access will be ubiquitous.
  • Education options expand. Self-directed or algorithm-directed education will be increasingly important, and virtual reality can create new options.  The ubiquity of the internet will make education available more cheaply to far more people.
  • Complete sequencing of millions of human genomes will lead to more predictive capability on disease vulnerability and understanding how to extend the quality of life.
  • Regulatory, legal, and political institutions will fall further behind the technological change curve.

A million-fold increase in technological capability in twenty years is hard to fully imagine. Have you watched an old movie and chuckled at their massive brick cell phones and text-only video monitors, or considered how silly the plot would be if someone had access to GPS? Have you tried to explain to your children how cool eight-track tapes and then Walkmans were? Or slide rules and the glory of TI30 calculators without a memory button? It wasn’t long ago that we were rewinding VHS tapes we rented at the video store. Think about how quaint and ungainly our current world will seem in 2036. What stories will we begin with the question, “Remember when we …?”

Some readers will note that I have not listed Artificial Intelligence above. The idea that a sufficiently large amount of computing power will spontaneously become self-aware and intelligent is popular (“The Singularity”) but at least as unlikely as life spontaneously arising from non-life. Human-designed algorithms will proliferate, and, coupled with large amounts of data and sensor systems, we’ll experience the strong appearance of intelligence. The voice-driven Siri is impressive, but is not intelligent. Throughout this series I refer to algorithms because those are the real factors.

Next week we’ll explore the positive impacts these changes are having on society, and then how Christian leaders can respond to the challenges these changes pose.

[1] Robots might replace 5 million jobs by 2020

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