When politicians and lawmakers disagree, technology can come to our rescue. here’s how
Climate change, reproductive freedoms, school safety, random gun violence and other conundrums call for technologically innovative solutions
Technology leads the way
I’m not a techno-romantic person. But I believe that technology could solve our most complex problems even if, in the process, it would sometimes raise legal, ethical and social problems. Climate change, reproductive freedoms, school safety, random gun violence and other conundrums call for technologically innovative solutions. When politicians and lawmakers disagree, technology could come to our rescue.
Human beings will not be replaced, but their capacities could be multiplied by technologies integrating intelligence systems. Just think of how NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope gave us a glimpse of the early universe with its crisp, deep infrared photos. We don’t know what impact, if any, this would have on our daily lives, but there’s no doubt that more than the political dramas playing out on Capitol Hill, our future is determined by technology, including technology. communication (ICT), artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, space technology, biotechnology and quantum computing.
There is no endgame in technology. Gunpowder, the printing press, the steam engine, the telegraph, the Internet, the cell phone, for example, have been determinants of history.
The disruptive potential of technologies on societies should not be underestimated. In the early days of globalization, for example, technology pushed jobs overseas to take advantage of cheap skilled labor. Capitalism loves cheap labor. But in the future, jobs would be lost not to countries with cheap skilled labor, but to networked systems with integrated human-machine intelligence, which would require a new type of skilled workforce, people able to work with intelligent semi-autonomous systems.
And no one is more eager to develop smart smart systems than the US Army’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to improve the military’s first-response capabilities and keep the nation out of harm’s way as much as possible. They call it the Early Awareness System (EAS), which is different from the Early Warning System (EWS). In EAS, you imagine and calculate the probabilities of developments that might occur, predict events that might occur, and take appropriate proactive measures. In EWS, on the other hand, you deal with developments that have already taken place. The concept of first response capabilities based on integrated intelligence and early awareness system finds applications in business, law enforcement and counter-terrorism.
Technologies are rarely self-sufficient in the age of digital networks. They have recombination potential and tend to converge with others to form new technologies, which could be used in ways the original inventors never imagined. A new world of sensory environment in which nothing would remain incommunicado is being born. Based on the convergence of sensors and smart technologies, law enforcement and counter-terrorism experts have dealt with terrorism, among other issues, in entirely different and perhaps more effective ways.
The interior of future aircraft would be equipped with sensors that record and transmit any unusual activity to a monitoring and control center for preventive action. Scientists from QinetiQ, a commercial subsidiary of the UK Ministry of Defence, have developed a working sensor-integrated aircraft seat model capable of capturing signals of physiological changes in a passenger and relaying the information to the cockpit monitor . The signals could allow the system to analyze whether the person is a terrorist or someone suffering from deep vein thrombosis, for example.
The smart seat would eventually be able to register signs of emotional stress felt by a passenger during the flight. Hidden seat sensors would provide unobtrusive in-flight surveillance and could provide actionable intelligence on activities, including the health status of in-flight passengers. More importantly, this information would enable plainclothes air marshals to take pre-emptive action should there be danger that terrorists are planning to blow up or hijack the aircraft. The cockpit would become an anti-terrorist cell.
We have become accustomed to various types of intrusive searches at airports, banks and other places. We don’t oppose an intelligent data collection environment if the goal is to improve security. We know the security cameras are on us; but we don’t feel embarrassed to be spied on when we go to an ATM or a bank counter for a transaction. This is the price we pay for security, convenience and freedom. There can be no freedom without security. So maybe we wouldn’t mind sitting on a sensor-integrated train or bus if it takes us safely to our destination where we can enjoy all the privacy we want.
Ah! But here is the challenge. Could school buildings like airplanes be turned into smart early awareness systems with built-in intelligence? We saw the horrific video of the Texas Uvalde school shooting where the 18-year-old gunman walked free and shot 19 students and two teachers and injured 17 others. Had Robb Elementary School been equipped with an integrated networked early awareness intelligence system, the shooter would have been apprehended long before he committed the carnage.
The Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is sacred to most Americans, but it shouldn’t become a black hole that sucks away all of our other cherished freedoms.
The author teaches at the Graduate College of Norwich University. He is the author of several books including the most recent, ‘India In A New Key: Nehru To Modi’. The opinions expressed are personal.
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