How will we communicate in 2113?


ScholarsAn invitation to speak on the theme of “How will we communicate in 2113?” at the third annual Commonwealth Residential School meeting at Cumberland Lodge provided an interesting opportunity (at least for me!) to explore some fascinating interests “at the edges” of communication and technology.

The outline of what I intended to say focused around the following themes:

  • Grounding prediction
  • Are there any certainties?
  • How do we communicate today, and why?
    • In whose interests?
  • Trends in communication and technology
  • Extending into the foreseeable future

In particular, I explored the implications of seven trends:

  • The observation that technology can be used for “good” or for “evil” – challenging the many instrumental views of technology in development that so often dominate thinking today
  • Making the case that technology is increasing inequality rather than reducing it – too few people really understand this, but to me it is critically important, and has very significant implications for the future
  • Those in power use technology to remain in power: both states and global corporations.  This is one of the key drivers for how ICTs will be designed and used in the future
  • The ways in which our understandings of privacy have been changed as a result of recent developments in ICTs, and the implications for the relationships between citizens, states, and global corporations
  • Cambridge telephone statueThe ICT sustainability crisis – not only in terms of the energy demands of ICTs, but much more importantly the ways through which corporations generate much of their profit through  making users buy new hardware and software on a regular basis
  • The implications for learning and literacy of next generation ICTs – we will no longer need to learn to read and write, we will be able to understand people speaking any language, and the changes to the brain caused by no longer needing to remember things.
  • The blurring of the human and the machine – and whether or not we want to become cyborgs (encouraging participants to see one of my favourite films – Blade Runner – and also to see the recently released Cloud Atlas!).

One of the fun things about the session was that for the first time I used Promethean’s ActivInspire to gauge participants’ thoughts on a range of issues around their current usage of ICTs.  This did not throw up any particularly novel views from the participants – although 25% felt that Edward Snowden was wrong in exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance programme, with 56%  agreeing that he was right to do so.

Ultimately, I found myself arguing that we have some very important ethical decisions that need to be made here and now with respect to our relationships with ICTs, because there are many forces at play that are seeking to make us increasingly intertwined, and unless we act very soon we may already be far too far down the path to turn back.

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Filed under Development, Ethics, ICT4D

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