11 Jan Whats the impact of the Cloud ‘Technological’ Industrial Revolution?
This is a subject id love to see more discussion and dialogue about. Interestingly as a science fiction genre there have been some thought provoking TV series such as the Netflix’s “Black Mirror” to films like “Automata”, “iRobot”, “Minority Report” and many more all of which cover the social effects of human interaction with technology but primarily from a dystopian point of view.
We’re living in a time period that has virtually no parallels when discussing the ubiquity of the Cloud, Internet, automation and technology. Thus the social effects these new technologies are producing are all essentially unique to our age. That said there are some comparisons that can be drawn from previous Industrial Revolutions like the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s that swept Victorian Britain and eventually Europe turning Imperial Britain into an economic powerhouse colloquially known as the “The workshop of the World”. This revolution took place prior to the abolition of slavery. The capital Britain acquired from the Transatlantic ‘African’ Slave Trade allowed Britain, Europe and the Americas to Industrialise and automate into a consumer oriented commercial model the world had never seen before.
Both periods, now and today, ushered in revolutionary social transformation due to these new changes in manufacturing and automation. The biggest impact was on the job sector. In the Victorian Industrial Revolution in Britain many jobs were automated out of existence due to many new inventions and improvements in manufacturing processes. There was though a great deal of resistance including violent resistance such as the Luddite rebellion which resulted in the destruction of factory machinery and Industrial equipment with the entire nation being engulfed in this workers insurrection. Much like the consumerism that was spurned on by the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century, the ubiquity of Cloud, Artificial Intelligence and Automation touches virtually all areas of the planet, and many parts of our lives. The key difference now though is technology via the Cloud or Internet is embedded in the human experience. Be that via social media, smartphones, or Over The Top (OTT) internet services and utilities, technology is now part and parcel of the human experience shaping our lives and day to day experiences and interactions.
The potential the Cloud brings is extraordinary. For the price of an internet connection and a credit card to hand there is very little the Cloud can’t deliver. But at what price? The scale and effect of automation via the cloud has the potential to really impact sectors like recruitment, agriculture, legal, transport, the low skilled and more, the human cost and societal impacts of which should not be understated.
There’s very little that cant be reduced to an algorithm these days especially for mundane repetitive tasks that are data reliant. But the societal fall out of reducing parts of society to an algorithm could be far more reaching than what happened in the 18th and 19th century. In fact the Luddite Rebellion could pale into insigificance if the unintended or unforseen consequences of delegating human decision making processes to an arbitrary code driven algorithm do become a dystopian reality. Its already been acknowledged by some CEO’s of leading technology vendors that the human impact of mediums like social media are having negative consequences on humanity, especially the youth who find it very hard to delineate between the technology that appears to be defining their online persona and the ‘real’ tangible world and their relationships with friends, peers or family. So much so that school teachers are being encouraged to provide training for children as young as eight on the pitfalls of technology and how they should correctly be interacting with it.
Ultimately all technology is just tooling, and in that respect is no different to a hammer, spanner or a drill in that the appropriate tool is selected for the desired function. Unfortunately we seem to be fast becoming a society defined by the tooling itself, algorithms, big data, business intelligence and so on. Profiles are built by various pieces of code that are able to gauge our likes dislikes sage habits and the like and then make a decision on our behalf based on the data. This has certainly been a successful model for target based advertising in online market places, helping to drive consumerism. As the Cloud becomes more and more embedded in what were originally human made decisions could the overreach of finance and technology become a global issue?
Another interesting consequence of this new reliance on technology is the assumption that all technology is by default progressive and humanitarian only having postive benefits for mankind as a whole. This oddly is held up as some unchallangeable infallible catechist whereby anyone who challenges this ‘progression’ is seen as anti-progress or ironically a Luddite who is also anti-change. Granted of course the world is a constantly evolving place, but this type of intolerant attitude stifles any serious discourse about the social effects and impacts of Cloud/AI and automation. The reality is no system is perfect. Vulnerabilities and flaws are found in code all the time. But the inability to have any discussion much less to foresee or even to react appropriately to discovered flaws should be a cause for concern.
Personally i’ve seen little discussion in the public domain on this topic. There’s been a few reactionary suggestions from some politicians like stipends (Universal Basic Income) for displaced workers but these are mostly reactionary suggestions that fail to deal with problems that arise from those left behind by technological ‘progress’, nor re-skilling those whose jobs have been made redundant by a ‘robot’ or an algorithm. The deindustrialization of the 1980s which saw UK manufacturing jobs moved overseas into cheaper cost centres had devastating impacts in the North of England especially in the mining industry. The consequences for these newly unemployed workers was terrible not only for themselves but also for their families and communities. Some communities and towns left to erode away as the machinery of human progress rendered them redundant. A stipend of course does nothing to ameliorate any of this and nor does it deal with the problem of idle hands. Most people are largely defined by their work. We gain a measure of satisfaction from it. This has been the case since time immemorial. Without a sense of purpose or fulfilment from gainful employment then as Church Father Jerome once opined “The Devil makes work for idle hands”. The US department of commerce claims as many as 16 million could be impacted by the introduction of autonomous cars. What prospects exist for all that excess labor bearing in mind like every other member of society they have bills to pay and families to feed.
A society reduced to a commodity, as is the Cloud, or a bunch of perfunctory algorithms with parts of society extracted from fundamental human decision making processes slowly could cease to be human at all. Technology is not capable of emotion, or understanding consequence, nor deep meaningful human interaction, ethics and a host of other qualities and nuances that ultimately define what society and the human experience is. Thus the human experience is obviously so much more than just data and algorithms. But it does remain to be seen what the actual cost to humanity will be in the ever long march towards the technocratic nirvana.