Interestingly enough, I had planned to write about this topic with a look at automation, specifically self-driving cars and trucks, but then I saw something else in the news online and thought, “yeah, that too!”. The bit of news I saw was about another “adult” dating site getting hacked and something like 300 million user accounts now being made public.
Can we just go ahead and accept that anything we do that leaves a digital trail will eventually be made public? I think we probably should accept that, and I think we, as a society need to think through the consequences of that. Clearly, we haven’t thought through what this reality means. For example, my Gmail address is just a variation of my name at gmail.com, which is super easy for people to remember. It also super easy for someone signing up for any number of websites to type in as their email address to avoid giving up their real address, and suddenly I find my email address tied to a user account at these sites.
Yeah, that never gets problematic at all. I’ve even considered keeping track of these sites and publicly outing every site that starts sending email without ever verifying the address belongs to the person who signed up for the account, but that’s another post for another time.
But, this is my point. We have come to assume that this digital trail is accurate, and will result in a more transparent society, without stopping to consider how easy it is for it to not be accurate, and to result in public shaming of innocent people. (Let alone how altering the data will become a new attack vector on people we don’t like.) We also haven’t stopped to consider whether public knowledge of otherwise private acts is even a good thing on the whole. Is it? How does it alter an individuals relationship with society as a whole if everyone knows everything about them? I’m not so sure we’ve considered how that will alter human behavior, and how that could be a very bad thing.
Which brings us to the automation revolution. Yes, self-driving cars and trucks are coming. There’s no question that they are, and I’m not a Luddite enough to argue that they shouldn’t. But, have we really thought out how this works for society as a whole? Have we stopped to consider what happens when millions of people no longer have a job? And don’t throw the adage that industries adapt and new jobs are created. We have never seen that level of disruption all at once. It is unprecedented. There will not be nearly as many new jobs created as lost. No one who has thought this through thinks there will be. How do we address that?
And once we’re all getting around in driverless cars, even those of us who still have jobs, how does that change our interactions? Does the car ride become yet another place where we are expected to work? What should the labor laws say about that? We haven’t even gotten labor laws to figure out the proper way to deal with remote working, and mobile technology, do we expect them to catch up with this anytime soon?
Both automation and the lack of privacy are changing the social contract right in front of our eyes. Sometimes that change is for the better, and sometimes it isn’t. I’m not sure many people have thought through what the social contract should look like going forward though. How do we ensure individual’s rights to private actions and speech? How do we disrupt entire sectors of the economy without creating a large slice of “unemployable” people whose skills are no longer needed? There’s been a lot of discussion lately about guaranteed income, that the government will simply have to give everyone a base wage to live, because we won’t have enough jobs for everyone any more. Have we really thought through what that means for self-worth, for how people are motivated to exist in society?
How do we live with each other when all of these changes come about at once? I don’t think anyone really knows.
It’s no wonder so many people are scared for their futures.