Technology in Our Life: Finding the right balance

Technology touches every aspect of our life in this day and age, from the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed. It has become such an integral part of our life that even our homes are becoming smart homes. If we look around us, there is no part of our life where we do not use some form of technology. At this rate, we will not be the ones using technology anymore, rather technology will use us.

We are connected all of the time. Not only through smartphones, laptops, and PCs, but we use the internet in every machine possible thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Many cities are embracing the smart city initiative. In Rio de Janeiro predictive analytics has been integrated with cloud-based storage for massive sensor networks [1]. The city of San Jose is collaborating with Intel and South Korea’s Songdo has collaborated with Cisco in order to use IoT linked to city infrastructures to control the flow of traffic, decrease sound pollution, and improve the air quality [1].

It can be presumed that in the near future all that can be connected will be connected. Around 11 billion devices connect to the internet now and this number is projected to nearly triple to 30 billion by the year 2020, and then almost triple once more by 2025 [2]. By 2020 IoT is expected to become a $1.46 trillion market [2].

All of these smartphones, laptops, and other devices and products embedded with sensors, such as smart clothes and smart watches, are purported to improve the quality of our lives. Smart devices will amass thousands of analyses and readings in a short amount of time. Cars are going to be equipped with IoT. Smart homes and smart office will use IoT to make us more connected, secure and productive. But all of these technologies produce a massive volume of data. Some of these data are mundane, like the temperature of the conference room. But other data can be extremely sensitive, like the details of a new business deal. Supermarkets are already using data to predict their customers’ behavior. When a lot more data is available, unscrupulous business owners will be able to use data to render people useless without their products. This massive flood of data can be used to encroach upon privacy, and soon this might encroach on security too. A connected dishwasher can be used as a backdoor and sensitive information about the owner might be stolen by hackers. If the company producing the products is unethical, they can collect information without the knowledge of the user. Cyber-criminals will increase, and they will be able to bring down people or industries quite easily.

There is disagreement about how all of this data is or should be used. If it belongs to the governments, they might use it to create totalitarian societies. If it belongs to businesses, they can use these data commercially to sell more products. Already video game producers and social media owners have processed and used data to get users addicted to their products. Instead of going outside to meet friends, people invite friends from the comfort of their home in the virtual world to play games or spend all day looking at people’s social media news feed [3]. Our generation is already less social than previous generations [4]. People are increasingly becoming dependent on online shopping. Shoppers increasingly prefer automated self-service check-out [5]. At this rate, the future generation might not develop any social skills at all and will rely on technology for everything.

At the same time, some people are craving human interaction. So, now tech companies are trying to provide human interaction using AI. For instance, Wysa is an app that allows people to release stress and anxiety, and it is being called the “4 am friend.” There are many similar apps like Webot, Joyable, and Talkspace which aim to help people deal with mental health issues. So, it’s possible that we are looking at a future where it is normal to have computer applications or robots as friends or maybe even romantic partners [6].

An average American uses electronic media almost 6 hours per day [7]. The problem is, excessive use of mobile devices makes people more prone to depression and also increasingly impatient. Additionally, people’s memory can become impaired as information is stored in different devices [8]. Likewise, because of the use of GPS and other navigation devices, people are losing the ability to use maps or have never learned to read one [9]. It might become impossible for them to navigate without GPS devices. If autonomous cars become the norm, people will not learn to drive. So, for every single mundane task that we rely on technology to do for us, we become more dependent on technology.

It is not bad to use technology. Technology has raised the standard of living in many parts of the world and is projected to do more. While it may have become part and parcel of our day-to-day life, we should not be too reliant on technology. It is important to find balance. Most of the tech giants do not allow indiscriminate use of technology in their own homes, and they especially limit the use of technology when it comes to their children [10]. There must be a good reason for that.

There has been revolutionary growth in the field of technology in the last few decades. Technology is making our life so much easier, but we should not forget the potential risks. If we become too dependent, we might lose the power of critical thinking and innovative nature that helped us invent and design all these things in the first place.

References

[1] Jones, T., and Dewing, C., Future Agenda: Six Challenges for the Next Decade. Profile Books, 2016.
[2] M. Kanellos. 152,000 Smart devices every minute in 2025: IDC outlines the future of smart things. Forbes. (March 3, 2016); https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelkanellos/2016/03/03/152000-smart-devices-every-minute-in-2025-idc-outlines-the-future-of-smart-things/.
[3] U. Saiidi, Social media making millenials less social: Study. CNBC.com. (October 17, 2015); https://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/15/social-media-making-millennials-less-social-study.html.
[4] S. Weiser, Americans are becoming less social. mentalfloss.com. (June 12, 2015); https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/65065/americans-are-becoming-less-social.
[5] Consumers like self-service more than associate interaction, reveals survey, Retailcustomerexperience.com, (January 24, 2018); https://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/news/consumers-like-self-service-more-than-associate-interaction-reveals-survey/.
[6] O. Schwartz, Love in the time of AI: Meet the people falling for scripted robots. The Guardian. (September 6, 2018).
[7] Marvin, R., Tech addiction by the numbers: How much time we spend online. PCMag. (June 11, 2018); https://www.pcmag.com/article/361587/tech-addiction-by-the-numbers-how-much-time-we-spend-online.
[8] Tamir, D. I., Templeton, E. M., Ward, A. F., & Zaki, J. Media usage diminishes memory for experiences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2018.
[9] R. Reid. Most under-25s can’t read a map because they rely on sat-navs. Cnet.com. (October 10, 2013); https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/most-under-25s-cant-read-a-map-because-they-rely-on-sat-navs/.
[10] S. Berger. Tech-free dinners and no smartphones past 10 pm — how Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Cuban limited their kids. CNBC.com. (June 5, 2018); https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/05/how-bill-gates-mark-cuban-and-others-limit-their-kids-tech-use.html.
[11] A. Gregory. How social media is hurting your memory. Time. (May 8, 2018); https://time.com/5267710/social-media-hurts-memory/.

Navigating the Technology Bramble Patch: Users, cultivators, and masters

In 1994, a gap in the online book-sales market was closed by a 30-year-old former hedge fund executive. Within five years, his site had expanded its offerings both to a greater market and to include other merchandise, such as software, toys, and home-improvement items [1]. Amazon.com also expanded as a service, allowing other online merchants to sell goods using its platform. Amazon Web Services, which both tracks website traffic for use in advertisements and rents space for data storage and computer processing power, cemented the dominance of the once-humble bookseller.

Since then, the technological giant has become a superpower in online sales, and the target of criticism for, among other things, worker compensation and factory conditions [2]. When confronted with the truth of companies such as this one, the initial reaction may be to boycott its products, but for Amazon, that is not possible [3]. Nearly one-thousand other businesses use Amazon Web Services to host their websites, which means that boycotting all of the giant’s products would entail protesting otherwise-neutral companies such as Intuit or Airbnb [4]. This human-cultivated technology, among many others, has overgrown so that it now snakes its way from the once-obscure internet into the everyday lives of humans. What started as a single rose has grown into a thorny bramble.

Slaves in the Red Queen’s Race

A common practice for companies like Amazon is to acquire tech startups before they can grow into true competitors. Therefore, the next tech giant will need to overcome this “aqui-hire” practice in order to establish itself in the market. Similarly, on a more global scale, countries must garner technology that is becoming increasingly expensive to mature into the “developed” Western standards of living. Confronted with growing barriers, developing nations must run the Red Queen’s race to enter the Information Age. In the words of Lewis Carroll’s character, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep the same pace” [5]. In short, technology is advancing faster than maturing countries, and industry startups, can hope to keep pace with.

This cleaving effect of technology—the rich get richer, the poor poorer—is observable on a more local industrial scale. Within the United States, technological advances demonstrate disparate effects. For example, IT makes way for more creativity and fewer repetitive tasks in higher-skill jobs, while automation threatens the livelihoods of people holding low and medium skill jobs. The poor must, therefore, work more hours in disappearing jobs to afford the new technology necessary for economic advancement. As technology pushes farther out in the race, those who cultivate the new technology rush ahead, while the others collapse in the dust. People – whether cultivators or users, whether knowingly or not, are letting technology enslave humanity.

Addictive by Design

We humans remain tethered to technology by the data mining and machine learning algorithms that harvest us. Our information fills big datasets devoted to training new artificial intelligence to capture our attention and undermine our control for the sake of money and, in some ways, power. Social Media follow us from online realtors to late-night pizza orders. To fuel our spending and pull us by the wrist into that next impulse purchase [6], our daily digital applications are infused with false scarcity and the appearance of free money. We are addicted to technology, tingling with dopaminergic impulses to reach the next level of Candy Crush, read the latest notification on our Pixel smartphone, achieve the next hundredth like on Instagram or Facebook.

In this present state of technology, each one of us is a slave. Even the champions of the common man—the user experience professionals—acknowledge the addictive properties of technology in the jargon they use when referring to their constituents: “We must remember the users!” Whether or not technology cultivators recognize the gravity of what they are doing, their outputs are addictive.

This does not mean the addictive design of technology is always “bad.” There are fitness applications that prey upon our fallibility, in the ways pioneered by Silicon Valley, to convince us to start moving, keep eating well, and forgive ourselves when we fail [7,8]. There are budgeting applications that teach us to be money savvy [9], to critically consider the next order placed on Amazon [10] for that strange tchotchke that will stare out at you while you eat ramen to make up for its presence. There are even applications that seek to remind us of exactly how much time we spend with our devices [11] and allow us to block sites that serve as distractions [12]. Users can be manipulated for good, too, it seems.

Users, Cultivators, Masters

Recently, people have begun to fight back. Concluding humans-as-slaves to be the only answer is a lazy escape, for we too are the “master[s] of [our] fate, the captain[s] of [our] soul[s]” [13]. When the political system and traditional media fail us, we can and have turned to technology to control discourse, to course correct the mainstream of our societies. In 2011, the Arab Spring was documented through social media and organized through secure forms of technology-based communication [14]. The Occupy movement was born on Twitter and manifested actual political protests [15]. Often, when the 45th POTUS has derailed the US national media, people have used technology to reign attention in on things that matter—for instance, the fires that ravaged the Amazon in the summer of 2019 [16].

Technology is not neutral—it is created by people to fill a need or perform a function, with little leeway. Nonetheless, it is created by people. We decide what is important to us.
We are leaving the world of technology slaves to become the technology’s masters, and it’s not a difficult power balance to overturn when you act intentionally—whether you are a user or a cultivator. As users, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be mindful of our connections to the world around us. We have tools. We have legislative power, if we reach for it, as Spanish residents have within the EU [17]. We can make the change if we want it. As cultivators, we have a responsibility to openly communicate with our consumers. We have an extraordinary ability to alter behaviors and change lives. With that ability, that power, comes extraordinary responsibility.

Technology need not be deterministic; society chooses when and how to implement technology. Humans foster its evolution, its innovation. In the struggle for control with our technology, people will emerge as users, cultivators, and masters.

References

  1. Hall, M. (Oct 17, 2019). Amazon.com. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Amazoncom
  2. Wohlfeil, S. Workers describe pressures at Amazon warehouses as Bernie Sanders gears up to make the corporation pay. Inlander. Retrieved from https://www.inlander.com/spokane/workers-describe-pressures-at-amazon-warehouses-as-sen-bernie-sanders-gears-up-to-make-the-corporation-pay/Content?oid=12226281
  3. Hill, K. (Feb 7, 2019). I cut the ‘Big Five’ tech giants from my life. It was hell. Gizmodo. Retrieved from https://gizmodo.com/i-cut-the-big-five-tech-giants-from-my-life-it-was-hel-1831304194
  4. aws.amazon.com. (n.d.) Case Studies. AWS customer success. Retrieved from https://aws.amazon.com/solutions/case-studies/?customer-references-cards.sort-by=item.additionalFields.publishedDate&customer-references-cards.sort-order=desc
  5. Carrol, L. (2016). The garden of live flowers. Through the looking glass and what Alice found there (Chapter 2). Retrieved from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12/12-h/12-h.htm (Original work published 1872).
  6. George-Parkin, H. (July 15, 2019). The psychology of sales explained. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/7/15/20694723/psychology-sales-prime-day-fomo-scarcity
  7. 8fit GmbH. (2019). 8fit [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://8fit.com
  8. Noom, Inc. (2019). Noom [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://www.noom.com
  9. Intuit, Inc. (2019). Mint [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://www.mint.com
  10. Cleo AI LTD. (2019). Cleo [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://meetcleo.com
  11. Moment Health Inc. (2019). Moment [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://inthemoment.io/
  12. Freedom.to. (2019) Freedom [Mobile application software]. Accessible from https://freedom.to/
  13. Henley, W.E. (n.d.). Invictus. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51642/invictus (Original work published 1888)
  14. History.com Editors. (Apr 5, 2019). Arab Spring. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/arab-spring
  15. Greene, B. (Oct 17, 2011). How ‘Occupy Wall Street’ started and spread. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/washington-whispers/articles/2011/10/17/how-occupy-wall-street-started-and-spread
  16. Nawrat, A. (Sept 6, 2019). Have you heard the Amazon is on fire? The power of social media in awareness raising. Verdict. https://www.verdict.co.uk/amazon-fires-social-media/
  17. Epic.org. (Sept 25, 2019). The right to be forgotten (Google v. Spain). Electronic privacy information center. Retrieved from https://epic.org/privacy/right-to-be-forgotten/

Winning Essays of ACM XRDS’ Essay Contest on THE FUTURE OF EVERYDAY LIFE

This year XRDS organized the 2019 ACM XRDS Essay Contest on THE FUTURE OF EVERYDAY LIFE. Given three topics to choose from—“Masters or Slaves of Technology?,” “On the Brink of Orwell’s ‘1984’ Vision?,” and “Digital Society – Including or Excluding?”— students were invited to submit a 1,000-word essay sharing their thoughts. In the coming weeks, the four winning essays will be published here. The winners are Bryce Belill, Mithila Dey, and Saloni Shah, all graduate students at Saginaw Valley State University, and Kaitlyn Michelle Ouverson a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa State University. We thank everyone who participated. It was a pleasure to see so many students interested in writing an essay and participating in the challenge as well as reading all submitted essays.

The winning essays will be published on the blog following this schedule. Kaitlyn Michelle Ouverson’s essay will be published on 01/09/2020. Mithila Dey’s essay will be published on 01/16/2020. Saloni Shah’s essay will be published on 01/23/2020. Bryce Belill’s essay will be published on1/30/2020. A summary article about the challenge, content, essay topics, observations, and opinions will be published in the 2020 XRDS summer issue. Enjoy the reading.

ACM SIGAI Launches its 2018 Student Essay Contest…Apply Now!

It’s fall in the States and that means it’s time for the 2018 ACM SIGAI Student Essay Contest on Artificial Intelligence Technologies! Win one of several $500 monetary prizes or a Skype conversation with a leading AI researcher including Joanna Bryson, Murray Campbell, Eric Horvitz, Peter Norvig, Iyad Rahwan, Francesca Rossi, or Toby Walsh.

(The following text is from the ACMSIGAI blog “AI Matters“)

The Contest

The ACM Special Interest Group on Artificial Intelligence (ACM SIGAI) supports the development and responsible application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. From intelligent assistants to self-driving cars, an increasing number of AI technologies now (or soon will) affect our lives. Examples include Google Duplex (Link) talking to humans, Drive.ai (Link) offering rides in US cities, chatbots advertising movies by impersonating people (Link), and AI systems making decisions about parole (Link) and foster care (Link). We interact with AI systems, whether we know it or not, every day.

Such interactions raise important questions. ACM SIGAI is in a unique position to shape the conversation around these and related issues and is thus interested in obtaining input from students worldwide to help shape the debate. We therefore invite all students to enter an essay in the 2018 ACM SIGAI Student Essay Contest, to be published in the ACM SIGAI newsletter “AI Matters,” addressing one or both of the following topic areas (or any other question in this space that you feel is important) while providing supporting evidence:

  • What requirements, if any, should be imposed on AI systems and technology when interacting with humans who may or may not know that they are interacting with a machine?  For example, should they be required to disclose their identities? If so, how? See, for example, “Turing’s Red Flag” in CACM (Link).
  • What requirements, if any, should be imposed on AI systems and technology when making decisions that directly affect humans? For example, should they be required to make transparent decisions? If so, how?  See, for example, the IEEE’s summary discussion of Ethically Aligned Design (Link).

Each of the above topic areas raises further questions, including

  • Who is responsible for the training and maintenance of AI systems? See, for example, Google’s (Link), Microsoft’s (Link), and IBM’s (Link) AI Principles.
  • How do we educate ourselves and others about these issues and possible solutions? See, for example, new ways of teaching AI ethics (Link).
  • How do we handle the fact that different cultures see these problems differently?  See, for example, Joi Ito’s discussion in Wired (Link).
  • Which steps can governments, industries, or organizations (including ACM SIGAI) take to address these issues?  See, for example, the goals and outlines of the Partnership on AI (Link).

All sources must be cited. However, we are not interested in summaries of the opinions of others. Rather, we are interested in the informed opinions of the authors. Writing an essay on this topic requires some background knowledge. Possible starting points for acquiring such background knowledge are:

  • the revised ACM Code of Ethics (Link), especially Section 3.7, and a discussion of why the revision was necessary (Link),
  • IEEE’s Ethically Aligned Design (Link), and
  • the One Hundred Year Study on AI and Life in 2030 (Link).

ACM and ACM SIGAI

ACM brings together computing educators, researchers, and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources, and address the field’s challenges. As the world’s largest computing society, ACM strengthens the profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM’s reach extends to every part of the globe, with more than half of its 100,000 members residing outside the U.S.  Its growing membership has led to Councils in Europe, India, and China, fostering networking opportunities that strengthen ties within and across countries and technical communities. Their actions enhance ACM’s ability to raise awareness of computing’s important technical, educational, and social issues around the world. See https://www.acm.org/ for more information.

ACM SIGAI brings together academic and industrial researchers, practitioners, software developers, end users, and students who are interested in AI. It promotes and supports the growth and application of AI principles and techniques throughout computing, sponsors or co-sponsors AI-related conferences, organizes the Career Network and Conference for early-stage AI researchers, sponsors recognized AI awards, supports AI journals, provides scholarships to its student members to attend conferences, and promotes AI education and publications through various forums and the ACM digital library. See https://sigai.acm.org/ for more information.

Format and Eligibility

The ACM SIGAI Student Essay Contest is open to all ACM SIGAI student members at the time of submission.  (If you are a student but not an ACM SIGAI member, you can join ACM SIGAI before submission for just US$ 11 at https://goo.gl/6kifV9 by selecting Option 1, even if you are not an ACM member.) Essays can be authored by one or more ACM SIGAI student members but each ACM SIGAI student member can (co-)author only one essay.

All authors must be SIGAI members at the time of submission.  All submissions not meeting this requirement will not be reviewed.

Essays should be submitted as pdf documents of any style with at most 5,000 words via email to https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=acmsigai2018.

The deadline for submissions is January 10th, 2019.

The authors certify with their submissions that they have followed the ACM publication policies on “Author Representations,” “Plagiarism” and “Criteria for Authorship” (http://www.acm.org/publications/policies/). They also certify with their submissions that they will transfer the copyright of winning essays to ACM.

Judges and Judging Criteria

Winning entries from last year’s essay contest can be found in recent issues of the ACM SIGAI newsletter “AI Matters,” specifically  Volume 3, Issue 3: http://sigai.acm.org/aimatters/3-3.html and  Volume 3, Issue 4: http://sigai.acm.org/aimatters/3-4.html.

Entries will be judged by the following panel of leading AI researchers and ACM SIGAI officers. Winning essays will be selected based on depth of insight, creativity, technical merit, and novelty of argument. All decisions by the judges are final.

  • Rediet Abebe, Cornell University
  • Emanuelle Burton, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Sanmay Das, Washington University in St. Louis
  • John P. Dickerson, University of Maryland
  • Virginia Dignum, Delft University of Technology
  • Tina Eliassi-Rad, Northeastern University
  • Judy Goldsmith, University of Kentucky
  • Amy Greenwald, Brown University
  • H. V. Jagadish, University of Michigan
  • Sven Koenig, University of Southern California
  • Benjamin Kuipers, University of Michigan
  • Nicholas Mattei, IBM Research
  • Alexandra Olteanu, Microsoft Research
  • Rosemary Paradis, Leidos
  • Kush Varshney, IBM Research
  • Roman Yampolskiy, University of Louisville
  • Yair Zick, National University of Singapore

Prizes

All winning essays will be published in the ACM SIGAI newsletter “AI Matters.” ACM SIGAI provides five monetary awards of USD 500 each as well as 45-minute skype sessions with the following AI researchers:

  • Joanna Bryson, Reader (Assoc. Prof) in AI, University of Bath
  • Murray Campbell, Senior Manager, IBM Research AI
  • Eric Horvitz, Managing Director, Microsoft Research
  • Peter Norvig, Director of Research, Google
  • Iyad Rahwan, Associate Professor, MIT Media Lab and Head of Scalable Corp.
  • Francesca Rossi, AI and Ethics Global Lead, IBM Research AI
  • Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence, UNSW Sydney, Data61 and TU Berlin

One award is given per winning essay. Authors or teams of authors of winning essays will pick (in a pre-selected order) an available Skype session or one of the monetary awards until all Skype sessions and monetary awards have been claimed. ACM SIGAI reserves the right to substitute a Skype session with a different AI researcher or a monetary award for a Skype session in case an AI researcher becomes unexpectedly unavailable. Some prizes might not be awarded in case the number of high-quality submissions is smaller than the number of prizes.

Questions?

In case of questions, please first check the ACM SIGAI blog for announcements and clarifications: https://sigai.acm.org/aimatters/blog/. You can also contact the ACM SIGAI Student Essay Contest Organizers at sigai@member.acm.org.

  • Nicholas Mattei (IBM Research) – ACM SIGAI Student Essay Contest Organizer and AI and Society Officer

with involvement from

  • Sven Koenig (University of Southern California), ACM SIGAI Chair
  • Sanmay Das (Washington University in St. Louis), ACM SIGAI Vice Chair
  • Rosemary Paradis (Leidos), ACM SIGAI Secretary/Treasurer
  • Benjamin Kuipers (University of Michigan), ACM SIGAI Ethics Officer
  • Amy McGovern (University of Oklahoma), ACM SIGAI AI Matters Editor-in Chief

 

Top 3 Winning Articles of the “The Time is Write 2.0” Competition

Here are the three winners of our The Time is Write 2.0 competition! You can read the three articles below, but first: congrats to Dipika Rajesh, Aditi Balaji and Pratyush Singh.

The Time is Write is an article writing competition that encourages all the aspiring writers to lay out their thoughts in writin and to share them on a global platform. This year, participants had to write a short article on the topic “Your Dream Software: Revolutionize the future”, about what their idea of a perfect software might be in order to revolutionize a particular field.

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