13 July 2015 How Communications & Technology are Reshaping Our Future (A Career in Mechatronics) Technology – specifically, automated production and electronic communications – from social media to the engineered global, high-frequency financial world, to politics and government itself – are transforming us, the members of the human race. It is pushing us forward into ever-increasingly faster rates of change. To this change we must adapt, in order to survive – but we will also need, in my opinion, to closely examine the fundamental structure of our society and how we define ourselves as individuals, if we are to survive a peaceful transition into a new society.
Social engineering is one term that gets thrown around a lot, but whatever we call it, we must work to build our society, and this is no small task. We can begin by addressing the psychological aspects: Right now, we have deep-seated habits and even instincts, one might say, that we use to define our social class and status. Going forward, we must understand that unemployment is a direct result of technological innovation. We must, because if we do not, there will continue to be class warfare of the type that results in street protests and riots over things like poverty, taxes, structural unemployment, and so on that can result in an apocalyptic scenario – this would be history repeating itself, of course, as it has done reliably throughout time immemorial. Whether that stems from incited racial divisions, falls across economic lines, social standing/work status, or other factors, these being just some of the overarching excuses that people use to blow off this ‘steam’ or tension that reveals itself in the form of overall dissatisfaction in life (we see this in the uptrends in crime or drug use) – we know that it is not how much money we have or how much wealth, but the issue of balance that creates such tension – the “Income Inequality” so often spoken of by Bernie Sanders (US Presidential Candidate) is what, from what I have come to understand, creates segments of the population who at some deep psychological level feel oppressed as they show up for work each day, doing the best they possibly can, perhaps with Hollywood-style American dreams to live up to as their goals, only to find themselves deeply saddled with heavy debt and living in poverty with nothing to show for it. And that’s just the economic portion of it – there is also the American lifestyle which, by the data, is far less than the idea portrayed by Hollywood and the advertisement-laced TV and radio world that follows us from our homes, in our cars, and at the workplace, which can leave us psychologically unfulfilled.
My career track at Central Piedmont Community College is in Industrial Control Systems, Robotics, CAD/CAM, Internet of Things, or at least this is what I say, because when I say “Mechatronics” most people do not know what I am talking about. Part of my reasoning for doing this has to do with the way it is transforming our society, but the fact is that long before I was even aware of society (as a whole), I was tinkering in the basement and the garage, visiting science stores and shows, and teaching myself how to fix things. By the 5th and 6th grades I was attending advanced classes at Montclair State University for Robotics, Etymology, and Logic and Reasoning. I later went to school for Network Engineering (IT), having come to understand computers very well during my years at Kittatinny Regional High School in northern New Jersey. I had always wanted to work with machines at a grand scale, fascinated by the complexity, power, and the sheer potential of what good the sciences can provide when applied correctly.
Apparently I am not alone in that vision, as it has been one of the great quests of mankind to create a world that has been engineered with himself in mind. Such it is that we find ourselves rapidly coming against the culmination of human achievement, to the point now where I believe we must continue adjusting ourselves psychologically, not just technically, at a social level, in order to coexist within an entirely new framework of human behavior. Simple shortcuts and adaptations can be made, but I believe we are beginning to run out of enough applications to properly address these requirements in this stop-gap, temporary sort of manner. For what we have so far is nothing but a rough patchwork of operating societies, surrounded by a rough world full of pain and poverty, when it is totally needless. To rebuild and redefine from the ground up, who we are as a species – not just as a people – is the shared goal of many philosophers across the world, and has been for a long time.
Our new and growing “cloud” or network of information interchange through the “Web” – combined with devices, from wearable technology to handheld devices and Social Media – are right now reshaping our world. But this process must have guidance, lest we fall into the abyss at unawares. For there are many perils and potential disasters not yet visible on this roadmap, and plotting our course, if nothing else, will at least give us reference points by which to address future issues as they arise. Artificial Intelligence, or “Ai,” will also take a prominent place in our list of caution.
In addition to the use of PCs and cellular phones, the Internet of Things includes security systems, wearable technology, even injectable and edible technology – as well as voice-activated automobiles, and home appliances – all these things capture our habits of life. These devices and the networks on which they operate hold every detail of our lives, even down to what we are thinking: “Creators hope that the advanced mind-reading technology will one day be able to teach people to improve their concentration and even assist people with disabilities” (Perez).
All of this inevitably leads to privacy concerns. Yet as we have seen with Facebook, Uber, Twitter, and many other examples, including Microsoft Windows, people may complain about privacy violations, but only after they learn that it has had any negative consequence on them. In other words, people will tend to accept any privacy violation, as long as it has nothing to do with them directly and to their knowledge. This is just one of the perils involved with our great leap forward: We blindly move “forward” without considering the potential damage that can be done to a free society. When our data is held in the hands of a select few companies (individuals), and the private, personal nature of the information contained in that data – whether it is something as simple as your home address, photos of your children, your bank account numbers, or other private data – the data itself can become a control mechanism that acts upon the psyche of the people. This does not even require direct blackmailing; it can be something as simple as people who on social media fear to post their real thoughts “in public” for fear of retribution, such as the case of employees who complain (legitimately) about their job, and quickly learn that they no longer are employed because someone reported the comment to their boss. This may seem like a small thing, but it has a chilling effect on society as a whole. It is like a blanket of silence that allows and perpetuates corruption, quite contrary to the original idea of the Internet as being a source of freedom. The way our private documents are now stored on cloud servers, exchanged often unencrypted via email, and security systems routing live video within one’s own bedroom through public servers which can be hacked, along with biometric voice identification, make it extremely easy for a top-down control system to be engaged to make critical decisions based on the psychological analysis of our metadata. This metadata is as unique to each of us as are fingerprints, only fingerprints cannot delve into our minds and make predictive analyses of what we might do, whether we should be classified as “mentally ill,” be allowed to vote, run for office, or perhaps more importantly, whether their voices are censored by algorithms on Facebook, for instance.
Of course, with privacy come all the problems of secrecy: There are some easy outs to this, of course. One of these is simply to keep it all a secret, by failing to mention or discuss these vital issues (on television talk-shows, for example). This creates a class of “non-participants” who are conformists, but not voluntarily because they are not even aware anything is going on. After all, it seems so far-fetched, to someone who is not familiar with the data-processing capabilities of various server farms. And without a doubt, this can work – for a while. But inevitably, as the main body of the population learns of these technologies – whether by experience, or through other sources – it may come about that the effort was in vain. What I mean is that it could backfire, the very notion of attempting to operate a society in this manner: According to Chris Chambers of The Guardian, “Surveillance impairs mental health and performance,” and “Surveillance promotes distrust between the public and the state” (Chambers). In addition to (privacy) being enshrined in the United States Constitution, even the United Nations values the use of ‘strong encryption’ and online anonymity, even stating that “ In an era of unprecedentedly broad and intrusive government surveillance, these tools often offer the only safe way for people in repressive environments to express themselves freely” (Human Rights Watch).
While some believe that leaving the public unaware of macroeconomic troubles is good because of the risk presented by speculators, in the long run, the system may be corrected as an alternative to total collapse. During the Vietnam War, for example, the massive amounts of money being floated around the globe ended up exposing the weakness of our US Dollar, to the point where President Nixon had to de-peg the US Dollar from its gold backing (the Bretton-Woods agreement). As Thomas Friedman put it, “For about 25 years the system worked fine, until the Vietnam War and Great Society programs triggered serious inflation in the United States. As America’s trade deficits with Europe and Japan grew, and dollars started piling up abroad, the Western allies rushed to redeem their dollars for gold before they were eroded by American inflation” (“The World”). Even to this day, various nations are trying to repatriate their gold, which it entrusted to the USA for safekeeping during the Second World War. As more people become aware of this, and as our national debt begins to choke and stifle economic progress, we may even see another currency come to replace the US dollar as the world reserve currency. Gold has flowed from West to East for years now, and this and other issues over resources could well lead to a third World War – a global conflict that will have the potential to become a hot nuclear war. And at this point the US Dollar and the Euro are starting to face unprecedented challenges. The Euro system is starting to show cracks in the foundation already – Greece is just one example that happens to be current. Perhaps a new, gold-backed cryptocurrency may be the answer that we need.
It can be justified, in the minds of those in the know whose minds are haunted by thoughts such as these – for example, those working in the intelligence services, just to name a few, that it is better for the people if they are not even made aware of any of this in the first place. However, this fact also means that those who are aware of such things are forced to live in a world where such things can only be discussed with a very small number of people. And the secrecy that surrounds much of these transactions and facts, especially for those working with classified information, can make it difficult when these people must live their lives without being able to have a simple discussion about such things. Perhaps this is not the best way to operate society, after all. But it’s also true that while we are living in a world of nations at war, for strategic purposes, vital classified information cannot be shared with other parties due to the risk of exploitation of that data: On the one hand, you would not think that American TV is censored – but when you realize that public television channels can easily be seen by any enemy of the United States, you realize that it cannot be anything but censored. The exact same principle applies to corporations, which have espionage as a major problem as well.
The major problem, despite all this, is not the secrecy itself or even the censorship; it is instead the idea of believing (falsely) that when we are watching Fox News or CNN, and they air reports from the “State-run Media” of another nation, that what they are watching is not in some way also “State-run” – in reality there is little distinction, and it is only a matter of degree at any rate. Perpetuated is the notion that “we” are different somehow, and we have freedom – that this freedom is why other nations wish to attack us, and that it has nothing to do with competition for global resources (particularly energy). I don’t see it as being greedy or hungry for money at all – instead, it is literally a fight for survival: Nations and people alike that do not have oil or energy are nations and people that will soon be dead ones, marked for harvesting or recycling like so much compost. I personally do not see the need to sugar-coat that fact, and instead believe that if the true situation were better understood we might have more (and more motivated) engineers working on alternative methods of generating electrical power, and making more efficient use of what is produced. This might avoid the reality of ugly facts, unlike cover-ups which only promote it, out of some vague fear or the public’s distaste. Ironic, because it is hypocrisy that is often the most distasteful.
Artificial Intelligence is another very real danger, in addition to war, on the present horizon. Elon Musk and many other prominent personalities in the field agree that AI can prove to be the most dangerous technology ever created by mankind; a true Pandora’s Box. Once this technology blossoms in such a way as to do us serious damage, whether in the form of nanobots, an army of Department of Defense drones and robots, or even a Skynet-type virus, it will have the capability to easily cripple us, even exterminate us completely, by using all of our own tools against us. Of course, none of these facts do much to stop or even temper the march forward to developing AI, although there is a public awareness campaign (in the form of Hollywood movies), it often makes AI appear as benign and friendly as often as it does demonic (Chappie vs. Terminator, for example). It is true, however, that there is a lot of very serious effort being put into voluntary committees and panels of robotics and software engineers who are tackling these and other, philosophical problems inherent in these projects, trying to address them at a legislative level.
We can begin at an individual and community level to bring peace and prosperity to the forefront as the main objective of our society. My real point is that through all the complexities of life, it is essential to make the most of what we have, and the reality is that while there certainly are starving children not only across the world but right here in the United States as well, and many other world problems, the fact does remain that we can all make a difference by defining for ourselves a moral code, a standard of behavior that encompasses true fulfillment and allows for an integrated, peaceful society by eliminating pointless exercises and strife, removing the very word “hate” from our routine vocabulary (in my opinion, hate is a very strong word, and used far too lackadaisically (I wonder if there are subconscious implications for this), and living our lives with respect for others. Even something as simple as not littering shows an actionable interest and respect for the community in which one lives. I believe that at the root, it is this, mutual respect for one another, more than any science or technical thing that must become the core essential piece of education. There is no need to get into complex analysis or psychology or sociology, it should be an obvious and simple thing, but because of the frankly adult-rated movies and themes in television shows which perpetuate bias, hatred, and disrespect for one another – even sports as a culture feeds on the notion of “us” and “them” and the idea that we should be fighting or ‘hating’ other complete strangers simply because of the color of the team they support – colors they are wearing – how interesting. It’s not that different psychologically than judging a person on the basis of the color of whatever they are wearing, regardless of the logo being presented.
Privacy is another issue that has arisen as a direct result of the high-speed, high-bandwidth communications infrastructure that has recently become accessible to all of us. Since there are legitimate needs to protect the privacy of nations (and individuals), it is important, in my opinion, for both to be able to communicate freely. This is a fundamental question, of course, but the answer (and question) become merely academic when one realizes the similarities between the challenges posed by privacy limitations and those posed by weapons, including those of war and “mass destruction” The effects that came about as a result of the so-called “Snowden revelations” is something that should be handled internally; however, whether any laws that apply to the case (and whether they should be made public, in order that a voting people remain capable of self-determination) is another matter. The fact is, a government that believes in human rights will be in favor of permitting freedom of communication, and those which do not are easily identified as “regimes” of the type countries like the United States typically fights in the world stage.
This is unfortunately often contrary to the stated goals and purpose of intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, CIA, and other alphabet-soup agencies whose mission it is to protect a certain public. It is only human nature, and the nature of any top-down regulatory framework, to become overzealous or obsessed with its mission to the point where the actual function of the apparatus exceeds its mission. For example, despite all of the privacy violations that any government has ever imposed upon its citizens, there have been plenty of real-world intelligence failures that have allowed exactly the type of events they are sworn to protect against (terrorism, for example) to occur. Again, it is the nature of any agency to justify its own existence, but one must admit, the theoretical possibilities of a total surveillance state are fascinating: Both wondrous and horrific, at the same time.
Getting back to the idea of what causes social disruption at the root level – whether it is financial, personal belief, or even mental illness – it is a robust education system that can identify these threats, without compromising personal freedom and security. But an enforcement-only approach (stick vs. carrot) is also likely to backfire among the masses, and something more than what we have now must be offered in return. There are many proposals floating around out there, particularly in cyberspace, each with their own ideas of what an “ideal world” would be. I am more inclined to believe that multiple variants of these systems can function within and among each other, without any requiring an absolute imposition of their doctrine on all of the people.
Our children do have great creative energy. Unfortunately, as has been shown, a lot of public education curriculum and rigid conformity to protocol in general, in combination with the push for an unattainable safety, actually dampers the creative process in children, which can become a lifelong handicap. Necessity is the mother of invention, and, as I wrote about in my first essay for this class, it could be that when everything is provided for, there is no need for invention. This is a great philosophical debate, and one that interests me greatly. Of course, it is ultimately human nature that decides our fate.
My ideas for a solution, if there is one, to the vast problems of poverty, healthcare, and so on are in part being addressed today; however, I believe at the core of it what we really need is a new financial structure. Surely with all of the automated industrial production, it should be possible for every non-productive citizen of at least wealthy nations, to exist peacefully without having to resort to crime that makes productive members of society their prey, in order to survive. Again, we do this with programs such as public assistance, but I believe they are too limited in their application, play ‘favorites’ and due to the financial structure of our modern world, offset the cost onto the productive citizens when in fact there is no need to do so. Without being ostracized, such people may be able to become contributors (to society) each in their own way, as opposed to the current state of affairs, in which many become criminals or even, potentially, terrorists. While it is impossible to eliminate – or even identify – every possible motive for such misdeeds, I believe it is worthy of investigation with an open mind: For without a motive, there is no action; without a cause, is no effect (though I am not so na ve as to believe this can ever be accomplished in the absolute sense).
It may be that this is nothing but pie-in-the-sky thinking, full of lofty goals, but what each of us can do right now is to look at ourselves, examine our attitude about the way our exchange systems and economy really operate, and ask ourselves what we can do to make our section of the globe a better place. And particularly, it is most important that we understand our “slice” of the globe itself, because it is much larger and more complicated than we might initially suspect. If education can provide the pathway to understanding, and understanding can bring reason and logic to the actions of the individual, then this could well be a winning proposition. But first we must begin to take a long-term view of things, and stop living moment to moment in the form of short-term political campaigns and quarterly profit-seeking by corporations as our sole form of progression.
We will need to prove we are able to establish a lasting social order. Unless we can accomplish this, the population of other planets will be impossible, unless of course we can find one ready-made that is nearly identical to Earth. The challenges the human species will face are immense, and no matter how much technology we develop, the real limiting factor will still remain as the weakest link is present within potentially any individual. On Earth, we are facing the possibility of nuclear annihilation, a consequence, should it come to pass, of our own making. On Mars, or any other such planet, the destruction is already there, and prior to complete terraforming, any breach of the life-support systems will be catastrophic. Put simply, a space travel or planetary population mission would be a haven for a terrorist. No matter how well-screened the crew, the cramped quarters and unnatural environment can push almost anyone to the breaking point.
Our present hi-tech world has many similarities: The surveillance system mentioned earlier, our “cramped quarters” – the fact that we rely on technology such as farming, oil, finance, and computers/electronics – which are all vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse weapons – are our “life support”. In addition to fail-safe systems, we must also take measures to ensure “continuity of society” in the face of potentially catastrophic risks and vulnerabilities that can bring harsh consequences, even to the innocent and non-participants.
Works Cited Friedman, Thomas L. “The World; A Nixon Legacy Devalued by a Cold War Standard.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. May 01 1994. ProQuest. Web. 5 July 2015.
Perez, Chris. “New Google Glass App Will Read Your Mind.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 July 2015. <http://nypost.com/2014/07/10/new-google-glass-app-will-read-your-mind/>
UN: Online Anonymity, Encryption Protect Rights.” Human Rights Watch. N.p., 17 June 2015. Web. 05 July 2015. <https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/17/un-online-anonymity-encryption-protect-rights>
Chambers, Chris. “NSA and GCHQ: The flawed psychology of government mass surveillance.” The Guardian, Web. 13 July 2015.