It’s not the technology that scares me. It is not the advancement of the technology that makes me nervous or even the ethics behind the application of the technology to sensitive fields that raises alarms for me. It’s about the fact that regular people- meaning “non-experts”- are not understanding the technology and therefore have no idea what it is capable of doing.
The further and faster the technology advances- and it will advance quickly- the harder and harder it is for regular people to grasp what’s going on because they don’t have the luxury of time to read articles all day long or watch multiple YouTube videos aboutbiohackingand TED Talks aboutBrain Computer Interfaces. I worry that if we let the technology continue to advance (which I think we should) that regular people will get left behind.
Companies that are harnessing the power of AI, Machine Learning, and Biometric data technology are creatingdistance between peoplewith the ability to understand it and everyone else. In my opinion, there are two main barriers to understanding. There is cognitive capacity and physical capacity.
Cognitive Capacity:the information that these tech companies are presenting to the public about what they’re doing is very complex and not intuitive at all. From an educational level, most people just don’t have the ability to understand the industry jargon and high-level concepts presented as explanation by these tech companies about their work and their results.
Physical Capacity:most people do not have the free time necessary to deep-dive on these complicated tech topics and as a result, they get shut out of the conversation. I know many people who are so busy that they don’t think at all about the implications of these new technologies on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. When questioned about it they often feel as if the technology is “too far gone” for them to be able to catch up with so they just stop trying.
It just so happens that the people with the ability to explore these new technologies are wealthy people with time to spare and the people without this ability to take time to understand this stuff are poorer classes of people.
One might say “it’s unfortunate but it’s not our fault that they can’t do the research… they should maybe just not be involved then.” Okay, fair enough.
But we run into a problem there because if you say “okay let’s not involve the people who can’t understand the technology” then 95% of Facebook user accounts need to be shut down, all Amazon accounts need to be eradicated, and Google should just be taken off the internet. Regular people don’t understand the AI and algorithms behind the sites they visit each day and yet they’re subject to the technology as if they were. You can’t have it both ways.
A Bigger Problem
One of the more troublesome implications of new technology is biohacking.
Personally, I find biohacking incredibly cool. But, because I know a lot about how it’s done and what data is collected by whom and who owns it, I don’t personally have a fitness tracker or any other type of wearable.
I am not saying that other people shouldn’t wear them, I am just saying that I feel informed enough to make this decision for myself. If it is of interest to anyone, I am waiting for the right mix of monitoring, privacy, and ownership to come out before I let any wearable device track my bio/ physiology.
I can make this decision pretty competently because I am informed on this stuff (unfortunately I am not rich, I’m just a nerd with free time) but how many consumers with an Apple Watch or some other fitness tracker know that they’re being subjected to the monitoring of of people looking to use their data to feed algorithms and contribute to the biohacking innovation? Even if users claim to know this and understand it, how many of them could explain the impact of it on their life now, 5 years from now, and 15 years from now?
This type of technology is basically unfathomable because it’s so far out of the “mental reach” of anything we have experienced before. Advancements in AI and Machine learning, as well as other technologies like Brain-Computer- Interfaces and IoT, are moving at such a rapid pace that even seasoned tech veterans are having a hard time taking grasp and holding on.
I propose that all of the companies collecting bio or physiological data about users (this includes AI, Machine Learning, BioChip, Smart Robot, and IoT companies just to name a few types) should have to be very clear and transparent about what they’re doing and it how will affect everyone from users to users friends and families. This is easily said and because it is kind of vague not so easily enforced so I will go a step further in my proposal.
These companies should have to detail- in clear language- what privacy somebody is giving up in using the service or product and in which ways the company is using and does plan to use the data. Importantly, this should not be a general disclaimer like“read this little terms and conditions and sign something or click I agree,”I am suggesting that tech companies in these sensitive spaces should have to make something like a YouTube video explaining the complexities of their product or service in an accessible way.
The making of a YouTube video is pretty specific, but the point is, these tech companies should have to do something that educates users to a level that when it is put in front ofregularpeople they can quickly grasp the risks and benefits and decide for themselves in acompetentway whether or not they want to take part in the technology, product, service, or environment.
I know it’s a big ask for companies but I do think very strongly that it is their responsibility- if they’re going to be altering the lives of human beings- to let all humans (not just the “smart” ones, not just the rich ones, and not just the ones with time to read all their little articles) know“this is what we’re doing”“this is how it works”and“this is how we think it’s going to go in the future.”
It is also the responsibility of the company to then keep updating people on any changes that are made to the service product or experience that will impact the rights and accessibility of data to users.
Furthermore, for obvious reasons these tech companies shouldn’t be able to charge exorbitant prices for access to these new technologies because that in and of itself creates a divide between rich (who can afford these biohacking services) and the poor who are just left to “regular” traditional medical care.
My final word on this is on the behalf of the tech companies working in this space becauseI do understand that it’s hard. It’s hard to develop these revolutionary new systems and it’s hard to get the innovation into a format that makes sense to the general public. I think if you’re going to create a technology like this, maybe you get a couple of years to develop it and test it with people who have the luxury of affording it or the luxury of affording to understand it- but then you have to make it accessible to the public.
The way I view it is like similar to the structures of patent protection.
Remember: if you say your mission is to create a new technology because you want to change the world you can’t only focus on changing rich people’s worlds. To create real value for society, you have to level the playing field.