At the Movies: Tech Fear

Fireworks ShowSpoiler Alert! Technology is a fearsome force in 2015 cinema. The movie “Blackhat” is about hackers with nefarious intent. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” comes out this year and it has a sentient form of artificial intelligence turned evil. The “Terminator” series is back and, according to the Super Bowl trailer, there are several Terminators trying to, well, terminate someone.

Get the picture? We need saving from the technology-driven world we created.

Now, these are all just silly movies, of course. Mere entertainment. Trifles really. Nothing anyone should spend time thinking about. Move along. These are not the droids we’re looking for.

Yet, beyond the multiplex, there are a lot of legitimate questions being raised, some proposals floated and august bodies convening. These growing themes in technology discourse are not so easily dismissed. A growing number of influential people are talking about the future of our technology-driven world and they are questioning the plot of the movie they are watching. Tech executives and communicators should not be cavalier toward these fears, and make the mistake of assuming that if we build Skynet we are in control of it (whoops, Spoiler Alert!).

There is a growing sub-plot of dystopian future in technology discourse and it promises some disturbing sequels to a romantic comedy about smartphones and cat videos. I wrote earlier this year about the Federal Trade Commission chairperson lecturing attendees at the Consumer Electronics Show on privacy concerns around the Internet of Things. The FTC has since issued a report detailing those concerns.

The FTC is joining the European Court of Justice and the EU in general in taking a stand on privacy and security as a social issue rather than a purely technical one. We also see this concern over technology’s impact in Microsoft’s study of global attitudes toward technology. In addition to gauging how much people like technology, the report gave voice to global user fears over technology’s ability to violate privacy.

The impact of technology on job destruction is also a hot topic among economists. Ultron might be a comic book monster, but there are real worries that many categories of knowledge-based jobs will appear and then be eliminated by AI before our kids finish their resumes to apply.

Not to be outdone by surveys and economists, no less than Elon MuskBill Gates and Dr. Stephen Hawking are predicting doom over the evolution of artificial intelligence. Gates is worried, but also chuckles that he would likely have been an AI researcher if Microsoft hadn’t worked out so well. In other words, we’re lucky that he got rich enough to save the world rather than destroy it.

These concerns about where we are heading are all valid questions that call for some industry response. In my next post, I will argue that concerns over the future are essentially built into the act of considering technology in our lives. For the moment, I will close by torturing my movie metaphor. Many actors seem to be reading from a script about a dystopian future while the technology industry thumbs through its proudly written romantic comedy.

Spoiler alert! This movie needs a hero. Are you the entrepreneur that can respond to these fears? We may need one. Apparently Tony Stark is busy battling a Terminator.

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