Considering all the progress electricity, the combustion engine and other major breakthroughs generated inside 50 years of inception, digital still has very little impactful progress to show for it. At least that’s the argument, Greg Satell makes.
To some extend he is absolutely right. Even though some real breakthroughs have happened and made a lot of things easier – shopping, booking travel etc. – if you think about the money spent, the money wasted, real challenges uncovered and real challenges created by digital, you could argue that he has a point.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is still possible to put real challenges – global challenges – at the centre of digital innovation and have those as our guiding posts. It is just a matter of our will. Human will. Not digital as such. Digital is just an enabler. And a potent one at that.
Launching an entirely new research area into machine behaviour as suggested by MIT Media Lab seems like an obvious good idea. Because the more we leave to machines, the better we need to understand the decisions those machines make, the rationale behind them and the impact they will have on our outcomes.
Forcing ourselves to understand machine behavior may also be the best backstop we have towards making sure that machines don’t completely take over in a ‘Terminator’-like scenario. Because even if we agree we should never get to that point, I am not overconfident that that isn’t exactly what could be happening a few decades from now (without necessarily resulting in the dystopian scenarios, Hollywood likes to present on the big screen, though).
It would also inject some much needed ‘softer’ fields of study into the world of engineering and computing, which I think we need. Not so much to keep things in check as to make sure that we really utilize technology to help us solving really big problems with a massive impact. While we, humans, remain firmly in control.