3 Ghosts

9 Emerging Technologies with Spooky Consequences

Happy Halloween!

It’s the time of year where tricks, treats, and pranks are everywhere, so it seemed like a great time to take a look at a few of the potentially spooky consequences of technology that we may be facing in the years ahead.

As an optimist, it’s important to note that none of these outcomes are necessarily guaranteed and there are almost always things we can do as a society to mitigate — or even eliminate — the negative consequences of new technologies. As such, all of the potential consequences listed in this article should be interpreted as possibilities, as opposed to surefire outcomes.

With that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s now take a look at 9 of the spookiest consequences of emerging trends in tech!

Tech Trend: Self-driving cars

Consequences: Cars will choose who dies in collisions

Even though autonomous cars will undoubtedly have a net-positive impact on society and drop the overall rate of traffic-fatalities per year, the technology doesn’t come without problems. One particularly notable drawback is that under certain circumstances, the car may have to make a split second decision about which party should be harmed in an unavoidable collision.

For example, imagine you’re driving down the road and an oncoming car has a tire blow out right as it’s about to pass you. The blowout causes the vehicle to veer into your lane, leaving your car on an unavoidable path towards a head on collision. Your car calculates that the current path would definitely be fatal for you (in the driver’s seat) and the only other option with a different outcome would be to turn the wheel slightly to the left, which would spread out the impact to both people in the front seats of your vehicle. Doing so would give you a better chance of surviving the impact, but would raise the chances that your passenger would be severely injured in the crash — perhaps even being fatally injured as well.

Should the car adjust its wheels in an attempt to save your life at the expense of risking your passenger’s life? Or, should it stay on the current trajectory, which would guarantee your demise, but also guarantee your passenger survives?

The question has no easy answer and this is just one example of the type of moral dilemma that will need to be “solved” by the manufacturers of self-driving cars before they are rolled-out to the public.

Further reading: PopSci, CBC, Business Insider

Tech Trend: Health screening tech becomes extraordinarily accurate

Consequences: Will know likely cause of death years in advance

If scientific tests could tell you that there was a 99% chance of you dying from stomach cancer by the age of 60, would you really want to know?

Well, ready or not, these sorts of tests are already available from such companies as 23andme and Pathway Genomics. Of course, the currently available tests aren’t anywhere near as accurate as 99%, but becoming as accurate as possible is obviously the clear goal for these companies and my guess is that it won’t be long before tests are producing results in that ballpark.

Having the option to “read” your genes and determine which diseases are most likely to harm you certainly does come with some benefits, such as having the chance to adjust your lifestyle or otherwise mitigate the impact, but the idea of knowing how you will most likely die — and when — is still a bit eerie.

Would you take this sort of test if it were 99% accurate? Let me know in the comments below!

Further reading: WebMD, CBSNews

Tech Trend: Gene manipulation allows parents to pick features of their unborn child

Consequences: Unhealthy and potentially dangerous traits become popular

Continuing on with creepy things made possible through genetics, we arrive at the idea that parents may be able to pick which traits they want in their kids.

A huge upside of this would be that we might be able to completely eliminate diseases or ailments that have a genetic origin. That is, if we discover a certain gene is responsible for a specific disease, then we could manipulate that gene to avoid the condition altogether — before the child is ever born.

Sounds great, right?

Well, yes, that part would be great. BUT, manipulating genes to choose features doesn’t come without some concerns. I mean, the concept is basically an advanced version of selective breeding, which we’ve been doing on all sorts of animals since the dawn of civilization, and we’ve ended up producing some very strange varieties of animals in the name of “trendiness” — many of which have significant health problems and decreased athletic abilities.

Breeding “designer dogs” is the primary example that comes to mind, where breeders have created countless types of dogs with all sorts of health problems ranging from breathing issues, eye problems, and back problems — all because the breeder preferred certain traits over others. This list by Pets WebMD provides a good overview of which issues are most likely to show up in a particular breed.

Without putting restrictions in place, it’s entirely possible (perhaps even probable) that human gene selection would result in the same sort of downside. That is, people would be so set on ensuring their child has a specific set of traits that they would ignore the downsides that could come with those traits. If you have trouble believing that, just think about how many fathers out there would love the chance to ensure their son has the perfect genetic make-up to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Further reading: Centers for Genetics and Society, The Wall Street Journal

Tech Trend: Health advancements leading to longer life-spans

Consequences: Extreme overpopulation 

With more efforts now emerging to reduce the effects of aging and increase life-spans, the issue of overpopulation as a result of those efforts starts to become more of a pressing concern.

The basic dilemma is that if we increase the average lifespan to 150, 200, or even 250 years, it won’t be long before our planet is completely overrun with people.

At that point, we will have to start thinking outside of the box to ensure everyone has a place to live, food to eat, and enough other resources to have a decent quality of life.

Those issues aren’t insurmountable, but they are most definitely worth considering as we get closer to making those longer lifespans a reality.

Further reading: National Institute of Aging, Kurzweil AI

Tech Trend: Computer-brain interfaces allow instantaneous knowledge transfers

Consequences: Individuals who can’t afford the procedure left with a severe disadvantage

If you’ve ever seen The Matrix, you probably remember the scene where Neo learns Kung Fu in a matter of seconds, thanks to the process of uploading Kung Fu knowledge directly to his brain from a computer.

It seemed far fetched when the movie came out in 1999 and it still seems a far ways off today, but that isn’t to say that it’s impossible. That is, we can’t yet rule out the possibility that one day we may be able to learn all sorts of new skills and knowledge by simply uploading that information directly to our brains.

One clear downside to this is that if not everyone has access to that process, some people will be able to learn just about everything there is to know in a matter of minutes (or hours), while others will be forced to learn the “old-fashioned” way (i.e. by attending lectures, memorizing vocabulary words, etc.).

Clearly, the person with access to the knowledge-upload technology will have a dramatic advantage over the person without. If money is the deciding factor in who gets access, then it could easily turn into a snowball effect where wealthy people’s children can access the tech, which then helps those children become rich. The converse would be true, where if a person cannot afford to buy their children access to the tech, those children will be at a disadvantage in the job market, all but ensuring they don’t become wealthy themselves.

It would be a spooky feedback loop, to say the least.

Further reading: check out this video clip explaining the idea of knowledge uploading in more detail

Tech Trend: Improving artificial intelligence and robotics

Consequences: Many jobs cease to exist

It’s no secret that machines, robots, and artificial intelligence will conspire together to do away with a large number of jobs in the decades ahead. After all, you can already see this happening in many jobs out there today and it likely won’t be long before other areas are impacted as well.

Technological innovation has been making jobs obsolete for ages — it’s just the way that it works. Yet, society continues to function since new jobs continue to be created. For example, the cotton gin probably put hundreds or thousands of people out of work, since the cotton fibers could be separated from the seeds much quicker than what was possible before — therefore reducing the number of employees required.

So it has gone with just about every other industrial innovation ever created.

The potential problem that is unique to robotics, however, is that we may be able to completely replace all manual labor with a cheaper alternative. Robots can work longer hours, don’t take breaks, and are much more consistent in their efforts. Once a truly all-purpose robot comes along and is made in a cost-effective manor, it won’t be long before manual laborers simply can’t compete with the robotic alternatives.

Of course, not all jobs are replaceable by robots, so not every job is in danger, but we may — nonetheless — be approaching an unprecedented situation where a gigantic number of workers find that their entire field of work is no longer a viable option.

Further reading: Slate, IEEE

Tech Trend: Increased use of technology in music production

Consequences: Software algorithms make people irrelevant to the process of creating music

If you haven’t yet seen the video showing how six chart-topping country hits are all based on the same musical formula, do yourself a favor and head on over to YouTube to give it a watch. Fair warning: it’s mesmerizing, eye-opening, and slightly depressing all at once.

Aside from highlighting the laughable similarities in modern country music, the video showcases that there are formulas for a successful song in the music business. By exploiting these formulas, software algorithms can be used to create songs that have a greater-than-average chance of becoming a hit. Taken to the extreme, it becomes possible that these algorithms will become better at creating popular songs than just about any person could ever hope to be.

We obviously aren’t there yet, but once the relevant technologies have a few more years to mature, it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. After all, if you were a music executive who was presented with the option to either pay hundreds (or thousands) of people to write songs of questionable quality for the artists on your label or buy software that could generate an unlimited number of chart-topping hits, which would you choose?

What’s particularly scary here, is that as a consumer (or music fan), there won’t be any way to distinguish which songs were created by computers and which ones were created by fellow humans. This means that even though you may think you’re connecting with the “honest emotions” of your favorite artist, you could actually be “connecting” with a cold unfeeling machine which crafted the song based on advanced mathematics, BIG data, and analysis of previous chart-topping hits.

Further reading: Hexachords, SuperWillow

Tech Trend: Online shopping continues to grow in popularity

Consequences: Local businesses disappear, online shopping becomes the only option

Online shopping has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Just about everyone I know has purchased something online at one time or another. It’s super convenient, it allows you shop around very easily, and you can access stores based in other parts of the world — something that just wasn’t very practical before the rise of the World Wide Web.

But as much as I love shopping online, I must admit that the activity does appear to come with at least one scary potential consequence: killing traditional “brick-and-mortar” stores.

That is, we already know that online business have lower overhead costs than traditional stores since they don’t have to rent out or maintain a physical store and can instead focus their energy on their supply chain, warehouse inventories, and polishing their web presence. This means that traditional stores are more or less forced to charge more, which has likely contributed to the rise in popularity of online business sales as consumers opt to spend their dollars where they get the most bang for their buck: online.

Following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, it might not be long before traditional stores become a thing of the past.

The scariest thing about this is that it’s entirely self-imposed. That is, if people would continue spending their money at local businesses, they most likely won’t disappear. We can keep the businesses around us from going away if we’d like. However, for the reasons mentioned above, more and more people are spending larger chunks of their cash online.

With all of that in mind, don’t be surprised if you look around at the retail-store section of your town and find nothing but a ghost town. (Yep, that’s a Halloween pun.)

Further reading: ZippyCart, TheRecord

Tech Trend: Virtual reality becomes so advanced that the digital world is indistinguishable from reality

Consequences: Large portions of the population don’t participate in the real world

If you could live in a world where you could fly, had the most money, and — in general — had everything tailored to exactly how you wanted it to be, would you ever want to return to the world you currently inhabit?

That’s the dilemma that many of us will likely face in the future if virtual reality technologies mature to the point where the virtual world is a convincing-enough replacement for the real world.

The idea is that if the technology is advanced enough so you feel as if you are actually in the virtual world AND you can make that world be everything you want it to be, would you have enough reasons to actually participate in the real (non-virtual) world anymore?

We won’t really know how this will play out until the tech gets closer, but if this World of Warcraft study is any indication, we can assume that people will probably be logging some pretty serious hours in their virtual worlds.

If it does turn out that people prefer to live in the virtual world, it could have quite a few rippling effects on the real world including loss of productivity, slowed down economy, and decreased birth rate — just to name a few.

Pretty spooky, eh?

Further reading: HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia

 

Well, I hope you enjoyed my list of 9 emerging technologies with potentially spooky consequences! Remember, none of these outcomes are guaranteed and it’s ultimately up to us to decide how technology will shape society in the years to come!

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