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News & Press: Digital Health Observatory

Can we cope with the digital technology that’s arriving at our doorstep?

07 August 2018  
Posted by: Matthew Grek
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Humans have been able to survive mostly thanks to technology, so how will that change in the future? Joan Cornet Prat, Board Member and Director of the Digital Health Observatory, ECHAlliance and Technical Engineer and Psychologist discusses how we'll cope in the future. 

At around 1300 BC the Greeks, Phoenicians and Hebrews changed the world from a cyclical culture, where everything was fate, to a world with a passion for progress, metaphysical thinking, action and a craving for the new and beautiful. In Asia, they were looking for the liberation of human’s desires. At this stage the Western world started on a path to personal freedom, helping humanity achieve the realisation of desires. One civilization chose to see the world as an illusion, the other to achieve a world of action and happiness.

The main innovations in technology have been implemented in slow motion.

  • The first flight of Giffard's steam-powered airship took place on 24 September 1852. This was 51 years before the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Travelling at about 10 km per hour, Giffard travelled almost 27 km from the Paris racecourse to Elancourt.
  • On 1 January 1914, the world's first scheduled passenger airline service took off, operating between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line was a short-lived endeavour, just four months, but it paved the way for today's daily transcontinental flights. The same goes for the steam engine, electricity and railways.In 1880, Brush Electric Light and Power Co. installed the first electric street lighting on Broadway; 14th to 26th and Madison Square were illuminated.  The first ever public use of electricity happened just 2 years earlier in Paris. by 1913 in New York 37,000 electric street lights only had been installed.
  • In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, beating Elisha Gray by a matter of hours. It then took 50 years for the first transatlantic phone service from New York to London ( in 1927). The smartphone finally came to market in 2007. A whopping 130 years after Bell’s invention.

Nowadays, however, technology innovation is not only implemented on the fast-track, but is also pervasive. As we’ve seen, In the past few people used trains, cars or phones immediately after they were invented/ introduced. In 2018 technology is everywhere. It impacts and influences every part of the way we live, work and enjoy life. Another characteristic of the technologies is the disruption of 'classical' business from banking, transport, retail, culture, farming, etc. No one single industrial or services sector escapes this disruption.

 (image ref: https://www.swamikriyananda.org/respond-challenges-highest-way/)

The pace and nature of technological change today

Based on the above a number of critical questions and concerns around the world we’re creating. Is this something we should be worried about?

  1. We don’t have time to adjust. When these changes happened slower in previous eras, we had more time to asses the impact and adjust. That is simply not true anymore.
  2. We need to be asking specific questions about what we ‘are gaining and we are losing.’ Yet it’s hard to know what those changes are because so many of these changes are unforeseen or unpredictable.
  3. The ability to connect using the technology offers a lot of promise if it’s used wisely.
  4. The more you live through screens, the more you live in a narrow bandwidth, an abstract world that’s increasingly artificial. And that virtual world is safe and controllable, but it’s not rich and unpredictable in the way the real world is. 
  5. What’s most striking about us as humans is that we are unpredictable in very basic ways. We’re more complex than we can fathom, and there’s something about us that is the opposite of artificial. It’s the opposite of something made.

 

Some people, like Wired founder Kevin Kelly, believe that the answer is a resounding “yes.” In his book “What Technology Wants,” Kelly writes:

“Technology wants what life wants: Increasing efficiency; Increasing opportunity; Increasing emergence; Increasing complexity; Increasing diversity; Increasing specialization; Increasing ubiquity; Increasing freedom; Increasing mutualism; Increasing beauty; Increasing sentience; Increasing structure; Increasing evolvability.” (2)

Technological evolution

  1. Technological evolution is more important to humanities near future than biological evolution; It’s not the biological chisel- it’s the technological chainsaw that is redefining what it means to be human. The devices are changing the way we live much faster than any contest among genes.
  2. This is also the principal difference between technological and biological evolution. Biological evolution is driven by survival of the fittest, as adaptive traits are those that make the survival and reproduction of a population more likely. It isn’t perfect, but at least, in a rough way, it favours organisms who are adapted to their environments.
  3. Technological evolution has a different motive force. It is self-evolution, and it is therefore driven by what we want as opposed to what is adaptive. In a market economy, it is even more complex: for most of us, our technological identities are determined by what companies decide to sell based on what they believe we, as consumers, will pay for.
  4. Comfort-seeking missiles, we spend the most to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. When it comes to technologies, we mainly want to make things easy. Not to be bored. Oh, and maybe to look a bit younger.
  5. That’s a future defined not by an evolution toward super-intelligence but by the absence of discomforts.

Impact of Technology

The impact of technology on society is deep. It is both positive and negative. Technology has largely influenced every aspect of living. It has made life easy, but so easy that it may lose its charm someday. One can cherish an accomplishment only if it comes after effort. But everything has become so easily available due to technology that it has lost its value. There is a certain kind of enjoyment in achieving things after striving for them. But with everything only a few clicks away, there is no striving, there's only striking. With the developments in technology, we may be able to enjoy all the pricey luxuries in life but at the cost of losing its priceless joys. (3)


 

Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?

We need to have not only few opinions, but a good research like this one. I strongly recommend going to the link 4, to read the whole report.

Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center queried technology experts, scholars and health specialists on this question: Over the next decade, how will changes in digital life impact people’s overall well-being physically and mentally?

Some 1,150 experts responded in this non-scientific canvassing. Some 47% of these respondents predict that individuals’ well-being will be more helped than harmed by digital life in the next decade, while 32% say people’s well-being will be more harmed than helped. The remaining 21% predict there will not be much change in people’s well-being compared to now. (4)

Themes about the future of well-being and digital life

MORE HELPED THAN HARMED

Connection

Digital life links people to people, knowledge, education and entertainment anywhere globally at any time in an affordable, nearly frictionless manner.

 

Commerce, government and society

Digital life revolutionizes civic, business, consumer and personal logistics, opening up a world of opportunity and options.

 

Crucial intelligence

Digital life is essential to tapping into an ever-widening array of health, safety, and science resources, tools and services in real time.

 

Contentment

Digital life empowers people to improve, advance or reinvent their lives, allowing them to self-actualize, meet soul mates and make a difference in the world.

 

Continuation toward quality

Emerging tools will continue to expand the quality and focus of digital life; the big-picture results will continue to be a plus overall for humanity.

MORE HARMED THAN HELPED

Digital deficits

People’s cognitive capabilities will be challenged in multiple ways, including their capacity for analytical thinking, memory, focus, creativity, reflection and mental resilience.

 

Digital addiction

Internet businesses are organized around dopamine-dosing tools designed to hook the public.

 

Digital distrust/divisiveness

Personal agency will be reduced and emotions such as shock, fear, indignation and outrage will be further weaponized online, driving divisions and doubts.

 

Digital duress

Information overload + declines in trust and face-to-face skills + poor interface design = rises in stress, anxiety, depression, inactivity and sleeplessness.

 

Digital dangers

The structure of the internet and pace of digital change invite ever-evolving threats to human interaction, security, democracy, jobs, privacy and more.

POTENTIAL REMEDIES

Reimagine systems

Societies can revise both tech arrangements and the structure of human institutions – including their composition, design, goals and processes.

 

Reinvent tech

Things can change by reconfiguring hardware and software to improve their human-centered performance and by exploiting tools like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

 

Regulate

Governments and/or industries should create reforms through agreement on standards, guidelines, codes of conduct, and passage of laws and rules.

 

Redesign media literacy

Formally educate people of all ages about the impacts of digital life on well-being and the way tech systems function, as well as encourage appropriate, healthy uses.

 

Recalibrate expectations

Human-technology coevolution comes at a price; digital life in the 2000s is no different. People must gradually evolve and adjust to these changes.

 

Fated to fail

A share of respondents say all this may help somewhat, but – mostly due to human nature – it is unlikely that these responses will be effective enough.

Table 1: Pew Research Center and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center.  


Social Media Addiction

Scientists have discovered that using social media results in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released when we expect or receive a reward. This at least partially explains why receiving “likes” and comments, as well as other interactions via social networking sites feel so rewarding.

Although social media addiction does not share all of the same features as drug or gambling addictions, studies have shown that quitting social media can lead to similar withdrawal in those who use social media sites often.

The dopamine release is partly to blame for this, but so is the fact that being active on social media activates specific brain regions in processing and anticipating rewards, which motivates us to stay active, which leads to more anticipation, which continues to the circle of staying active on the various platforms. (6)


(image ref: https://dhminor.stanford.edu/)

Are we facing a new paradigm, are we facing a new society?

  1. Digital technologies are advancing at a dizzying speed. Societies are diverse with different speeds both between themselves and within themselves. There are people who live in the 21st century and others in the Middle Ages.
  2. The big social Challenge is how we managed to move forward without dividing our societies. There is a great risk of increasing the divide between those who have and those who do not. What will happen to citizens or societies that are involuntarily excluded from digital life?
  3. We're used to working in silos. Big Data, analytics, Artificial Intelligence, Robótics, Genòmics, Quantum Physics. Molecular Biology, Psychology etc. are confluence. ¿How will we know how to manage the confluence of new technologies? Will we not be faced with a new scientific paradigm? (5)
  4. Are we willing to lose some of the privacy of our lives?
  5. We live in a culture based on evidence and scientific authority. Who guarantees that new technologies have evidence for both the positive and the negative? Can you imagine that the tools of games like play Station or IBox or the games in the stores carry labels like in the case of the alcohol or the tobacco warning of the negative effects of the dependence of these tools
  6. There are different analysis documents on the impact of new technologies in particular of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (7) (8). Would it not be necessary and urgent that a code of conduct be adopted at the global level (U.N)?
  7. Cases like Facebook illegally using data from their customers,or the saga of Russian espionage, they put in question the security and the guarantee of privacy in the social networks. Who has the authority to investigate and penalize these abusive behaviors.
  8. In the face of the new political populism, how can new technologies help to consolidate ever-fragile democracies and empower citizens?
  9. When are schools and universities going to build on how to live in the new digital world?
  10. This is an important dilemma. Are we going to become a passive, comfortable society that only pursues the easy, selling our personal autonomy at a cheap price or are we going to a proactive, critical society capable of using science and digital technology to improve humanity?

The problem, though, is not the technology. The problem is are we humans we able to fight to get a better world.

These issues and reflections are not the result of pessimism or thinking negatively. These are issues that we must solve precisely so that the new paradigm of digital society is for the benefit of the quality of life of all citizens at a global level.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Information and sources

 

  1. As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse
  2. What Technology Wants
  3. The Future of Well-Being in a Tech-Saturated World
  4. Peter Watson. 2016
  5. Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time
  6. Ethics in robotics and automation: a general view. June 2018
  7. Should we fear artificial intelligence? European Parliament. 2018