6 September 2018
Author: The Future Laboratory
In terms of the state versus technology, I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch over the next 10–20 years as you see Millennials reach candidate age for the first time, not to mention Generation Z, who are very politically active, engaged and left-leaning. We’re going to see a radical shift in politics. Because when you look at the rise of Big Tech’s influence in the past 10 years, and its dominance of the government, a lot of that has to do, I think, with a generational issue – a basic lack of technological literacy. That came to the fore in the Cambridge Analytica investigation. Those in government have simply not been familiar with the implications of these companies and their technologies, or allowing them access to contracts and data sets.
I don’t think these companies are evil, they’re just driven towards profit without thinking about the ethical consequences. What I like is that in recent years more and more think tanks have been taking a critical look at the nuances of how devices are designed and raising awareness about how they should be changed. For example, why is IBM’s Watson – ‘the expert’ – a man and why are Alexa and Siri, who perform more menial roles, by default, women? All of these things are important to examine as this group take a bigger civic influence. This is one small detail, but it arguably normalises a lot of sexism. But, essentially, I’m not sure that any of these companies see what they’re doing as bad, or scenario-planned any negative consequences for the technologies they’re creating.
The government people that I spoke to had much more humility. They admitted that: ‘Yes, the government's slow. Yes, it's frustrating.’ But they also pointed out some valid issues with Big Tech replacing the state. One of the things that rang true to me was how brands such as Uber and Airbnb claim to make travel accessible, but that’s only really true for the middle class. The government is most critical when it comes to people in the far reaches of society, and even though these companies use economies of scale to make such services cheaper, they’re still not 100% solutions in most cases.
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