The Spring semester of the 2016-2017 academic year at UNMC was marked by a flurry of activities. One of these included the high-flying inter-campus International Student Summit 2017 hosted by the University of Nottingham parent campus in the UK. The topics discussed revolved around the four key areas of technology; education in the 21st century, social media, artificial intelligence and cyber-safety. Before we delve into the ISS discussions, let’s start with the current issues revolving around technology.
How much do you know about the technological era we are living in?
EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY
A degree is a commodity that rises in price based on quality and market value. Allow me to provide some insight: did you ever pay for your education? Did you ever have scholarships? Do we as human beings actually deign to pass judgement on someone because of where they studied or what they studied?
For an example of the changing trends in current educational institutions, take the case of MOOCs. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a great avenue to make education available to the masses. Of course, MOOC’s do not necessarily equate to proof that a person has studied the subject and attained mastery in formal education, but they do provide an excellent source of supplementary knowledge, learning for the sake of education and flexible choices in terms of what we learn and how we choose to learn. Most importantly, they do not put a price on education.
However, given that the drop-out rate and certification issues are addressed by making it like formal education (in schools and universities) in terms of enrollment, providing a degree, proper assessment, supervisors etc. we can transform the education industry into a place where the only concern is learning. This way, MOOC graduates will be just as valuable as conventional graduates.
The world of academia runs on the principle of glossed over business. The party line is the attainment of knowledge. The fine print tells the truth. Your tuition fees, text book costs, software license prices, even your graduation fees all prove otherwise. Having the desire to learn should be the only factor when it comes to access to education, but unfortunately it is not. Intelligence (of the conventionally accepted kind), social class, finance, race, gender, religious background, nationality, ethnicity and even sexuality can be determiners when it comes to education and getting certification.
For a constructive discussion on social media, we need to start with answering the question of how it became an issue. Social media changed from being a positive phenomenon which enhanced lives into an issue due to its far reaching consequences related to disassociation, safety, addictions and its money-making potential in a society that is getting exponentially materialistic.
With the rise of advancements in social media we are placing technology in the hands of the 1%, those who still hold the capability to design will have the power to direct our choices, our thoughts and ultimately our direction as a sentient species. Movies featuring social media and technologically enhanced futures garner attention because they show a dystopian future as a highly probable utopian eventuality. How will the masses pay for everything? The answer is eternal debt where 99% of the world is running on advertisements targeted to spend incessantly.
The cost of doing business online is letting ourselves be at the mercy of tracking systems and data brokers, because opting out individually takes too long. Our private information, our tendencies and preferences, and most importantly our online identity are all given price tags. Our identities can be bought and sold by corporations who want to increase profit margins by creating targeted ads. Consumers should be able to see what websites are tracking and using your information for. Complete transparency is the right that we should work on achieving for society.
Social media is not restricted to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but encompasses services like Wikipedia, Tumblr and WordPress. The answer is rising insurance premiums, higher credit card limits and eventually reaching the point of debt forever. The ominous cost of doing business online or even working online is not having complete transparency on the reasons our data is being collected for.
The most popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are essentially a means for having a perfectly edited online persona that is a substitute for connecting with humans outside a screen. These sites are rife with advertisements and news, to the point that most millennials no longer watch news channels and prefer to get their daily dose of news from social media.
Information is power, and every time we sign up for a social media service or even use the internet, data brokers capitalize on this power and sell our information to companies so that they can provide us with targeted advertisements catering to our interests and exploiting them in other ominous ways.
Artificial intelligence is considered widely to be one of the notable triumphs of scientific inventions. It enables humanity to delegate time-consuming tasks like number crunching, surveillance, driving, and search engines. AI is essentially a super-smart problem solving tool that is coded to think for itself and to make decisions independently without having to reply on a human to input commands. This autonomy can be dangerous, especially when applicable to issues of human safety and the progress of the individual in a society. If we rely on AI systems for the majority of our work this leaves us as little better than a group of amoebas. We will cease to think, question and invent.
However, an AI medical diagnosis is often higher in terms of efficiency, time and accuracy when compared to a human diagnosis done by a trained professional like a doctor. Let’s suppose we replace human doctors with AI systems. This eliminates the learning aspect. We will instead focus on creating and tuning AI. If we skip the fundamentals of knowledge in any area e.g. engineering, arts, medicine and law we are skipping an important stepping stone. We will become cogs in a machine, specialized to controlling and enhancing artificial intelligence.
Safety is a prime concern in every industry and aspect of our lives. We have achieved in leaps and bounds as a species in terms of technological advancements but have we developed safety measures in equal shares to combat threats to public and private security?
The major threats we are exposed to on a continual basis are global cyber security, cyber terrorism, online privacy, social media issues, artificial intelligence issues, data leaks and new generation humans.
Socializing through technology has become a means of disconnecting from the world, of relieving oneself of all that is human and disassociating with reality. The emergence of internet trolling, cyber bullies, cybercrimes, identity theft and procrastination through the usage of social media like 9gag, Tumblr, Instagram has become a big issue. Then we start having apps or security measures to fix the issues we ourselves have created e.g. child filters on the internet, Snapchat (to avoid people from taking screen shots of images/videos/messages that are intended to be temporary/private), security measures and procrastination apps like Time wrap or sites like Disconnect.me to protect ourselves from web tracking.
A simple example; cyber bullying. We have witnessed countless cases of children and even adults being bullied online resulting in emotional scarring, mental health issues, low self-esteem and in the serious cases even self-harm and suicide. The internet and social media networking provide an additional environment for bullies and predators like pedophiles and psychopaths to easily lure prey in and systematically dismantle other human beings due to the perpetrators own issues. The anonymity provided by the internet is one bonus for the perpetrators of violence. It is a façade behind which humans can disconnect from compassion and empathy and become monsters without fear of retaliation.
In conclusion, there are myriad aspects to the technology era that we are living in and all of them have dual natures. Essentially, they are tools that have no innate goodness or badness in them. The outcome they provide and the effect they have is entirely up to our discretion as human beings. We determine the use of technological tools. We have the power to determine whether a technological innovation is a constructive solution or a destructive one. Accordingly, it is our responsibility to ensure that as humans we always aim for equitable solutions and ensure that no tech-centric tool is misused, be it in short-term usage or in the future.
Written by Ayesha Shaik
Featured Image Source: https://twitter.com/issnottingham/status/852564861695520770