March 10, 2019

For the eighth consecutive year, IEEE visited Austin, Texas for South by Southwest® (SXSW®) to hold a series of talks focused on what the future of humanity will look like in our increasingly technology-rich world.

Our first session, led by Katryna Dow, discussed how the rapid fusion of physical, biological and digital is moving us from a fourth Industrial revolution to a new age. Katryna explained that as we enter the dawn of this knowledge age, we really need to step back and think about the type of society that we want for our future. Technology is benign, it’s neutral. Our future should be defined by what we do as a society, not by what new technology enables us to do. It is on us to decide the path we take and establish governance around how these new technologies are used.

One path could lead to a renaissance – an incredible flourishing digital era like the Renaissance was for art and literature, but down another path, we could actually find ourselves moving backwards at an exponential pace, into what Katryna describes as “Orwellian digital feudalism.”

She urges us to think of designing this future in the same way we would design a home or a city — with intent. We would need a blueprint to lay down those foundations and if those foundations are right, we could start to put structures in place that resemble intention.

One of the challenges presented in this session is that we haven’t really worked out how to properly collect and use personal data to train algorithms. In this new age, every child that is born can lead a dual physical and digital life, or in other words, everyone can have a “digital twin.” Although we still have a lot to figure out about privacy rights, “what does it mean when our digital self does not have the same rights as our physical self?”

How can we design a societal blueprint where privacy and security rights for our digital twins are just as important as the rights afforded to us in the physical world?
How we collect and process open, big, personal data, and harness algorithms, AI and automation, will determine whether society evolves in the best interest of humankind.

“The ability for us to solve some of these challenges begins at the design level.”

Find out more about ethically aligned design and the work that Katryna Dow and others are doing with IEEE to develop standards that describe the technical elements required to create and grant access to a personalized Artificial Intelligence that will comprise inputs, learning, ethics, rules and values controlled by individuals.

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