With each passing day, we see the emergence of new technology. Not one day exists, during which humans can refrain from experimenting with technology. And yet, there exists a strange and curious association that humanity has with technology. On the one hand, humanity defines and helps technology to evolve to make lives simpler. Yet, on the other hand, there is this lingering fear as well that technology may take over humanity in the near future. And this dilemma of whether technology is a life saviour or a threat, contributes immensely to the curious collaboration that exists between humanity and technology!
For how long has this collaboration existed?
Humans’ oldest and possibly the first exposure to technology can be considered to be the stone tools, which were invented perhaps more than 2 million years ago. These tools helped the early humans performs tasks, such as cutting, crushing, or smashing, in a manner that simplified execution. The collaboration can thus be presumed to have started in the early stages of humanity itself. Thereafter, the fire kindred had raged stronger over the next centuries, and perhaps from there, humanity could never really stay away from technology.
So, will this collaboration exist forever?
If we look especially at the past few centuries, human centricity towards technology has delivered many marvels that have eased human life. Whether it is the invention of electricity, or the rapid progress in automotives, industrial automation or smarter homes and cities, technology has been humans’ best friend that has always stood alongside to lessen human burden and make lives simpler. Given this fact, it is highly likely that humans will continue to leverage technology for as long as we exist.
But then, what is curious about this collaboration?
As we ask this question, we innately realize that besides all the glory, we have also possibly started to feel the potential threats and a slightly negative side to technology, perhaps in the future ahead. Or is it only some eccentric sci-fi movies that are making us feel paranoid; to an extent that we ask ourselves if technology is really humans’ best friend or is it a guile that is waiting to take over the humanity?
Well, as a technologist, an engineer, and an academician, I believe that we are living in extremely interesting times. Of late, we have started to see certain applications of technology that have forced us to ask the above questions. Especially, the rapid advancements in the field of Artificial Intelligence have raised our concerns. We were probably not fully ready to accept that machines could suddenly become as intelligent as their makers or even outperform in certain areas. After all, technology is only what humanity is producing. But there exists the lingering fear amongst humanity that artificial intelligence will eventually take over the place of emotional intelligence.
So, what is the future for this curious collaboration?
Well, just like every coin has two sides to it, it may be only wise to accept that there are both beneficial and detrimental impacts of technology. Today, we are observing how data-powered technology is proving to be a game changer for human welfare, enabling predictive and prescriptive analytical applications that require extensive number crunching, beyond the capability of a human mind. Artificial intelligence (AI) backed by data-driven learning will continue to give us unbelievable solutions, including the likes of self-driven cars, self-sustained cities, and efficiently-operated industries. The cross-domain of AI and Robotics is likely to give humanity the extra hand that it needs in almost every sphere of life, whether at home or at work. Of course, there is no doubt that this may be a threat to the low-level tasks that humans have been used to doing. Humans are good at people-centric tasks, something that machines may find hard to learn; we will definitely need to learn to evolve and use technology to rise above menial jobs.
The curious collaboration between humanity and technology is not going to end. Not yet. Probably, never in the future too. Yet, if the collaboration should remain amicable, then there needs to be a fine balance between artificial intelligence and emotional intelligence. Also, the world needs to continue to remain human-centred, as much as it needs to continue to be technology-focused.
So, will humans be able to walk this tight rope that needs fine balance? … Well, as I said earlier, we truly are living in interesting times!
Author: Prof Nishit Narang, Group Leader & Associate Professor, Bits Pilani WILP