As we enter the new year, everywhere you turn there are predictions about what new technologies will transform your life and business this year.
It’s the usual suspects talking about talking about blockchain, AI/ML, cloud, edge computing, IoT and AR/VR. The question is: have we reached a saturation point? And are we no longer in control of the technology we create?
In a Pew Research study, 32% of people surveyed believe technology will have a greater negative impact than a positive one on the human condition over the next decade. Concerns cited in the study centered on digital deficits due to advances in AI, digital addiction and digital duress, and the erosion of human interaction.
We get so caught up in the buzz of new technologies that we overlook the implications that they will have on the broader human condition. My suggestion is instead of focusing on predictions of which technologies are going to matter most in 2019, let’s instead start focusing on governing and managing the technologies we already have.
The High Cost Of Fast Data
The fifth generation of mobile technology, 5G, will be the enabler of the next technological revolution by creating a wireless network that provides high-speed data access and computational capabilities in an ecosystem of billions of connected devices. Let’s put it in perspective: The highest 4G LTE data speeds have a max of 100 Mbps, while 5G will top out at speeds of 10 Gbps (10 times faster) — this means downloading an HD movie in seconds.
There are clear benefits of 5G technology, as it will enable the internet of things to achieve its full potential. It will better connect people and cities and improve the health care and automotive industries.
But there are rising safety concerns around the deployment of 5G technology, which uses high-frequency waves to get higher speeds. Large cell towers will need to be replaced with smaller towers that are closer to the ground. Wireless providers indicate they will have to install over 300,000 new antennas.
Strong opposition is mounting in places like Montgomery County, MD, where there are concerns over additional radiation exposure as a result of deploying local 5G networks. Some studies are linking 5G waves to a multitude of potential health effects.
The reality is there have not been enough studies conducted. We need to develop clear safety regulations and conduct better testing of 5G technologies prior to widespread launch.
You Lost My Data Again?
In the first half of 2018, there were 945 data breaches, leading to 4.5 billion data records being compromised. Several of the breaches reported in 2018 were the largest of all time.
It felt like every month we learned about a significant high-profile breach. In September 2018, Facebook announced that 50 million user accounts had been compromised, the largest in the company’s history. In November, we learned of the Marriott/Starwood breach that compromised 500 million customer records. The year ended with Quora announcing in December that 100 million user accounts were compromised.
Consumers now have security fatigue and no longer believe corporations can adequately protect their data. While legislation like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 are steps in the right direction for consumer advocacy, there is still a long way to go.
Did You Steal My Face?
Facial recognition software/surveillance is becoming more and more common and is now being used for everyday transactions to unlock your iPhone, access your accounts and pay for goods with a smile. You can even rent a car at Hertz using facial recognition. And Delta launched the first biometric terminal in Atlanta last November.
But this technology is also being used to identify and track people. A Georgetown study revealed that more 117 million people — half of American adults — are in a law enforcement facial recognition database. The FBI is also stockpiling photographs without consent, with roughly 80% being from non-criminals, including pictures from driver licenses and passports.
In 2018, Amazon partnered with numerous law enforcement agencies to deploy its AI-powered facial recognition platform called Rekognition, which can identify, track and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. Amazon also met with U.S. government officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) this past summer to sell the technology.
The use of facial recognition technology is rapidly increasing globally, giving rise to debates around biometric data privacy. There’s a big difference when you voluntarily use your facial biometrics versus not being aware you’re being scanned.
Alexa, Are You Listening?
Smart products like Google Home and Amazon Echo are gaining momentum, with 43 million Americans now owning a smart speaker (18% of the adult population).
But also increasing is the number of reports of rogue behavior from these smart speakers. Users report incidents of spontaneous laughter, sending private audio without permission and recording private conversations.
Amazon and Google have reassured users that these devices are secure and cite a series of improbable events causing these mishaps. But the reality is that 48% of consumers surveyed said they were concerned about privacy issues associated with their smart speakers.
Technology innovation and regulation have been on opposite sides for decades. Frequently, the inventors of new technologies are unable to predict all the negative ways they can be used. The current free-market system is no longer working to ensure end-user privacy. The speed of digital transformation is leaving the public and governments behind.
What we need to do is reinvent regulation in order to manage the digital world. We need vendors, not just governments, to become more accountable. Technology companies need to re-evaluate their emphasis on ease of use over security. Users want and deserve both. They need to be advocating for tech regulation.
So as we launch into 2019, why don’t we spend more time hardening the technology we have before moving to the next set of shiny tech objects?