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Why the technology debate cannot be left to experts

Why the technology debate cannot be left to experts

The potential of AI will only be realised with proper public consent

The story of the IIC’s half-century is, in many ways, the story of power being placed into the hands of consumers. Whether through greater mobile connectivity, individual devices or on-demand viewing, choices abound in ways that the inventors of the technology could rarely have foreseen. Many would say that the trends in media and communications are a reflection of wider societal change. The end of deference, greater individualism and faster gratification have all been noted developments since the 1960s. But there is no guarantee that this trend will continue.

The paradox is that while public is more accepting of the use of technology in general, concerns about misinformation and privacy have led to a breakdown in trust in those who provide technology, as well as, to some extent, those who regulate it.1 The continuing adoption of Artificial Intelligence implies acceptance that decisions affecting us will be made by better-informed and faster-thinking robots, powered by analysis of vast pools of data. We cannot take this acceptance for granted.

Resistance to change will increasingly come from two quarters. Privacy campaigners will have continuing concerns over the use of data. Questions are being asked about, for example, the use of facial recognition in public areas, and the possibility of health data being acquired by insurance companies. Meanwhile, liberty campaigners worry about the ‘nanny state’ deciding on exactly how an individual should drive their car, or be presented with healthcare advice they haven’t asked for.

What all of these concerns have in common is a difficult balance of societal benefit over individual freedom. But the difference over previous technologies is the requirement of ‘collective will’; the potential saving of lives that will accompany the introduction of self-driving cars will only be realised by a ‘tipping point’ involving virtually universal adoption. To achieve this will require a new bond of trust with the public through widespread and transparent debate. The sooner this begins, the better.


1Pew research, June 2019

chris chapman2Chris Chapman
President, International Institute of Communications

  • Tuesday, 30 July 2019

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