2020 Where to?

12 months ago I wrote about the likely transformation in the transportation industry, i.e. autonomous and electric vehicles, robotics and AI, also the Internet of Things, fitness trackers and voice interaction with our devices.

All good stuff if you can keep up with it, but at the speed at which we are supposed to absorb, understand the consequences of, and the implementation of, the new technology is daunting.

This, of course, is where your membership of Kapiti SeniorNet becomes invaluable. Where something new is of interest to you there is a good chance that a new course or a workshop incorporating your interest area pop up on the programme, and if not, do ask if it can be included.

I am well aware that not all technology is useful to us in a direct way, but as so many of you have found the basic devices like phone, tablet, laptop and desk computer are valuable for everyday communication, shopping and just living.

We have now entered the era of the interconnectivity, where by voicing a request, question, or instruction of some kind to a device in our home, we are able to control all manner of tasks previously requiring our own physical effort to execute. You have no doubt seen adverts for Alexa or Echo speakers connected to Amazon or Google 24/7 via the Internet. Everything you say is transmitted to either of these companies for immediate reply or action, be it turning on the lights, the TV, or playing some music for you or searching for answer to your questions. Loads of other actions can be programmed in and will be carried out at your say so, all as long as you don’t mind being listened to in readiness for your smallest command.

For some the downside is that all that information about you that it listens to is used to build data about you and your habits, likes and dislikes, which on the one hand, they argue, will provide better solutions to service your requirements, on the other they will know you better than you know yourself.

We also learned, when the story about Facebook selling the millions of personal data to Cambridge Analytica broke, that the latter company used the data to manipulate how advertising and electioneering messages to the voters could best benefit a particular candidate, such as e.g. Donald Trump in the USA or the Brexit leader Boris Johnson in the UK, even if both in this case were the underdogs.

What this means is that we need to be very awake to how Governments or indeed anyone pushing a particular agenda can use such methods to manipulate us because they know us too well from all the available information assembled on the internet and can – and most likely will – when it suits their purpose, tailor their sales messages/propaganda/advertising to hit the vulnerable spot that will ensure their success, and if they have done a good job we will not wonder how they managed to reach that result.

We are familiar with the propaganda machine during wartime, but it has become highly technical and sophisticated although the end purpose is the same, to have us believe in ‘fake news’ or fake events, much of which we are served daily via internet, TV, and newspapers, the latter mostly repeating overseas news items without serious questioning of source or veracity. We now also have faking of videos where e.g. a person is filmed giving a speech, then another person’s face is inserted and the words manipulated, all looking authentic. Once again our trust has been undermined in what we see and hear on a daily basis.

In China the powers in authority now has extensive camera installations for facial recognition combined with intrusive surveillance, and as 90% of the world’s tech production is in China we can look forward to saying goodbye to what little privacy we have left.

Don’t get me wrong, technology has been a boon for us and has provided so many useful benefits, nevertheless, we are now in danger of technology outpacing our ability, and indeed our requirements, to benefit from it rather than becoming slaves to it.

The mobile phone is probably the one to have created the greatest shift of technology and the smartphone has become a testbed for change, not just in tech, but in people and the world we live in.

They became bigger, more powerful, the buttons or keys disappeared, new operating systems, and they became our camera with the quality of photos growing rapidly with new lenses, new features and unheard of performance.

Where to now? Well 5G is already being offered in top tier phones though general use infrastructure may wait a while to make them worth investing in.

Are we ready in 2020 to handle the technology challenges facing us? Can we look forward to a realistic pace that we can keep up with, or another headlong rush into the unknown?

For some even getting to use a computer was a mighty step, and I am reminded of the time my Mom started out.

I said: “C’mon Mom you have got to try it”.
I don’t know how my Mother lasted this long without ever using the internet, but enough was enough! I thought.

“Ok” she said reluctantly settling down by the computer and slowly putting on her reading glasses “What do I do now?”

“Now I’m going to open the home page of Google”, I explained. “OK here it is! Now type in ANY question you want into the bar over here and you will find an answer to your question.” I confidently assured her.

My Mother looked at me warily, thought for a second, and slowly began to type:
“How is Gertrude doing this morning?”

Do enjoy the New Year, learn a new skill and let Kapiti SeniorNet be your guide to navigating through 2020 Technology.

Happy New Year.