The NYU Dispatch

Are we Heading towards a Technological Utopia?

Renowned astrophysicist and science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson debunks fears that the future will be anything like ‘The Terminator’ science fiction movie and expresses his optimism in the following words: “I live in the real world, and in the real world that’s simply not the robots we are making and even if we did, they would just be really good computers of things and they would give me access to information.”

The concept of ‘Utopia’ goes back to Sir Thomas More in 1516, whose book titled by the same name presented a fictional account of an island that had qualities of perfection. Technological Utopia refers to a world in which technological advancement would enhance the living conditions in an almost utopian or idealistic manner. Technology is transforming at a mind-boggling pace. The rate of change that would take a lifetime not too long ago is now happening at the blink of an eye. We are staring at a future where we can create and manipulate AI and virtual reality. Technological advances are driving creativity, enhancing productivity and making the world a better place. Technology has the potential to answer some of our biggest questions, resolve our toughest dilemmas, and help us to better understand our world. What does this portend for the Homo-Sapiens species? Are we heading towards a technological utopia of sorts?

Change Drivers

We are on the cusp of a fourth industrial revolution, led by disruptive technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). The first industrial revolution, in the 18th and 19th centuries was ushered by the steam engine, the second industrial revolution or the technological age was driven by electricity, the third industrial revolution or the digital revolution was triggered by the development of computers and information technology since mid-20th century.

AI, IoT, Big Data, Blockchain, 3D printing and VR are changing society beyond recognition. These technologies have the potential to individually transform products and services, and collectively upend entire businesses and institutions. The IoT is connecting billions of devices, ranging from vending machines to mining equipment and agricultural machinery. The Cloud is facilitating sharing of infrastructure, and augmenting storage and retrieval of information. Machine learning, a sub-field of artificial intelligence, has immense potential to build machines and create factories of the future. VR, a computer-generated simulation of a realistic scenario, has wide-ranging applications in diverse fields such as education, armed forces and telecom. Blockchain is a digital and decentralized ledger technology that records all transactions in a secure and transparent manner, thereby rendering banks and other financial intermediaries redundant. Needless to say, this can have an earth-shattering impact on the financial space.

Implications

Revolutionary technologies tend to leave a trail of disruptions, albeit momentarily. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is likely to trip the world into the next wave of job losses and stagnant wages in fields as diverse as manual work and white-collar careers. Education, in its current form, will become irrelevant, with a World Economic Report suggesting that a whopping 65% of the children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types that do not exist as yet.

Hyper-connectivity technologies will turn individuals into passive consumers of products and information. Self-driving cars may derail social life itself, causing drivers to lose their jobs, leading to a mad scramble among cities to develop the necessary infrastructure, and forcing governments to rethink automotive laws. The transition from smart technologies to smart cities may also not be a smooth ride as cities are not merely huge supply chains, but spaces bubbling with dynamic and yet imperfect human beings. There are also fears that human beings will self-destruct due to potentially powerful technologies such as AI, drones and intelligent bots services, with even the likes of legendary physicist late Stephen Hawking and futurist technologist Elon Musk expressing their misapprehensions of the road ahead.

Response

The past industrial revolutions have demonstrated that any path-breaking innovations significantly re-shape societies and economies. The ongoing fourth phase of industrial evolution could well go miles ahead in leapfrogging humanity into a brand new world, bordering on the utopian.

Utopia, however, cannot occur in a vacuum. There is a need for a favorable environment that integrates all aspects of life. Governments worldwide need to partner with academic and industry experts to understand emerging trends and put efficient systems in place to address people’s concerns and expectations. Individuals need to adapt to change at a faster speed than ever. The ability to innovate and adapt in disrupted times requires new ways of thinking and an ability to compete with new types of business rivals that use technology to invent transformational solutions to social lacunae and customer expectations, as was the case with Uber, AirBnB and Expedia.

Conclusion

We live in extraordinary times. Change, innovation and competition are a way of life today. We are blessed with the ability to engineer technology that is uplifting and not enslaving. A utopia thus need not remain the stuff of dreams alone, but could well be a beacon of hope that fuses the social, cultural and ethical aspects of life, and unfolds a new consciousness.

This article was contributed by fellow NYU students. If you would like to make a contribution to the NYU Dispatch, please email us.

One thought on “Are we Heading towards a Technological Utopia?”

  1. There are also fears that human beings will self-destruct due to potentially powerful technologies such as AI, drones and intelligent bots services with even the likes of legendary physicist late Stephen Hawking and futurist technologist Elon Musk expressing their misapprehensions of the road ahead.

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