The velocity of technological change is exponential, yet the pace for ethics and regulations is old-world anemic. The two vectors will not intersect in a positive way for the foreseeable future. Quite the contrary, the growing space between the two has the capacity for some perfect storms that may create serious and potentially significant disruptions for all of us.
Some disruptions are already being felt and others are just over the horizon.
Last Christmas, everyone expected that one of the most prized gifts would be a personal drone. Thousands of people got them. Previously, drones were known to have dangerous near collisions with aircraft, and others were shot down by neighbors who resented their prying cameras; even the White House went on lock down as a drone landed upon the lawn. Commercial use of drones for delivery by Amazon and Google etc. was in overdrive, and yet, no one knew what part of flying drones was legal and what was not. The FAA came late to the party, releasing the most basic regulations a few weeks before the holidays. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of drones needed to be registered or owners would face fines. Why did we wait so long? Even today, this is not completely resolved and regulations are pending.
The hoverboard sadly exemplifies the mad-dash, oh-wait, uh-oh process. Here comes a new technology into mall kiosks and on to Amazon’s best-selling lists, and it literally explodes in our faces. The lithium battery hazard is a similar case in point. We assume as consumers that someone must have made sure that all is okay. In reality, there is no time for testing, standards, safety, rules etc. because the pace of change is far exceeding our ability to make those choices.
We are deluged with the latest news on the self-driving car front. Scientists now expect that driving is expected to be entirely autonomous in 25 years and 10% of all U.S. jobs involved in the operation of a vehicle will simply disappear http://bit.ly/1Qh0mz7. This will affect how we build roads, our car insurance, our ownership of autos and so much more. We have known this is coming for a long time. These vehicles are being actively tested on the road today. And yet, where are the rules? In this case, some states, like California, have taken the lead and now the federal government is fast tracking. But why did we wait so long? Did we not believe this was going to happen?
Is AI going to be good for us or the end of the human race? Well, it depends on who you ask. Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk are sure that AI, if left unchecked, will indeed be the death knell for all of us humans. Eric Schmidt and other Googlers, among others, believe the opposite. At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb, 13, 2016 scientists called for policy proposals that will ensure that advances in robotics and AI will serve the social good http://for.tn/1QgZWc7. I am in the camp that says if there is a potential for catastrophic harm, we need someone to step in and create common-sense rules. But who decides and when….? After the signs of Armageddon appear?
Recently, the British government officially and publically supported efforts for gene editing. What is this? DNA engineering that allows the creation, deletion and repair of the core components of our biological structure. This technique can be used, for example, to fight inherited diseases, saving yet to be born children from cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s disease. Members of the intelligence community in the US agree that gene editing represents a largely open field. Citing the easy access, rapid development and weak regulation they argue that the “deliberate or unintentional misuse” of gene editing technology might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications http://bit.ly/1ob4GDX. Others argue that it is like “playing God” and unethical. But who decides and when….? After the “genie” is out of the bottle?
IoT or the era of the Internet-of-things is now upon us. Most things we own will carry a connection to the internet and will be able to exchange information with other things. Estimates are that we are likely to see between 50–100 billion IoT devices in just a few years. Your doorbell, refrigerator, washing machine, oven, toaster, every toy – to name just a few things – are or will soon be connected…to something or someone else. Wonderful! There is only one problem. There are no rules for the minimum amount of security we will need for such devices. We do know that anything connected to the internet is hackable. These IoT devices are a tsunami that is almost upon us and yet who decides the minimum security standards and when….? What is remarkable is that recently US Intelligence Chief James Clapper told a congressional committee that he sees intelligence agencies using IoT to spy http://bit.ly/1Se7oEZ. Great, now the “black” hats and the “white” hats (the good guys and the bad guys) are all lining up to pry and compromise our security. IoT may end up being one of the biggest threats we have seen.
The rule makers and ethicists need to respond to this quicker pace of change, addressing the New in a different manner than we regulate the Existing. Preventing hoverboards from catching fire on an airliner, and self-driving zombie cars from crashing into each other, needs a lean forward approach, otherwise a lot of mayhem is in our future.