Technology and the converging digital world
Emerging technologies such as AI or blockchain blend with one another creating entirely new concepts
Ian Gauci is the managing partner at GTG Advocates, Afilexion Alliance & Caledo Group. He lectures on legal futures and technology at the university of Malta. Here he writes about the key roles emerging technologies are expected to play in a fast-turning digital world and the vital interplay necessary for their success.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution now upon us, we are living in a new digital world which according to Thomas Friedman has; (a) integrated circuits on microchips, (b) memory units to store information, (c) networks that help to enhance communication, (d) software applications that provide a direct link to consumers’ needs, and (e) sensor capacity that allows artificial intelligence to analyse most things which were previously only accessible to the human mind.
This revolution is the result of ‘technological convergence’, which can be described as the concept of merging, blending, integrating and transforming independent and previously unrelated technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and Virtual Reality (VR). Joined together, a completely new technology is created, integrating the physical, digital and virtual worlds. Converged technologies possess three characteristics; multiple functions, data collection and use, and ubiquitous access. The IoT is a common example of technological convergence.
Emerging technologies, particularly AI, blockchain and the IoT are expected to play key roles. However, such interplay of technologies will rely on another important component, being, big data. Data is the lifeblood of any business, and those that leverage its use will have a competitive edge over their competitors.
With the amount of digital data available in the world growing exponentially, we are witnessing the growth of a new digital world. Today’s world is full of all kinds of sensors such as cameras and IoT sensors that collect and transfer all sorts of data to the digital world. Moreover, the digital world provides ways for this data to be accessed and then utilised in the analog world. VR takes things to the next level, allowing us to actually step into this digital world, interact with it as well as learn from it.
The ultimate technology breakthrough can be seen when we leverage the integration of IoT, AI, fog computing, machine learning blockchain and big data. For instance, consider an autonomous car. With distributed and increasingly cost-effective AI engines, the vehicle can make decisions based on the massive amounts of high integrity, immutable on-chain data that is processed by fog nodes. Such technology envisages the possibility of an autonomous car that can intelligently and safely navigate with little to no human intervention, a feat that would not be possible with traditional data analysis and traditional computer and networking solutions.
Technological convergence is so far reaching that it would be hard to find a business or human activity that is not considered as a target for AI in future years and decades. Technological convergence may spark a number of issues. Amongst these, converged technology may pose challenges to defining regulatory policies, roles, and responsibilities. Determining oversight jurisdictions and regulatory authorities for converged technologies may become complicated as the boundaries that once separated single-function technologies are blended together. Interestingly, EU lawmakers foresaw the emergence of technological convergence from as early as 2002, demanding convergence-aware regulatory treatment of telecoms, broadcasting, and information society services.
The fusion of the digital and physical worlds will undoubtedly bring about new risks, forcing us to redefine and change many of our laws and policies to mitigate such risks and foster the safe functioning of the new digital economy. Harmonisation between different nations and their laws will also be fundamental.
In this converging new world, certain characteristics still have a ubiquitous scope. Firstly, certain software exists across a wide spectrum of devices, resulting in a modern society that largely relies on functions and features nascent from software across different sectors, and this in turn can be its Achilles heel. Secondly, whilst it is undeniable that technological transformation and innovation bring new features and functions nascent from merging technologies, the human brain and workmanship still underpin such functions and features. Moreover, even the end users of such technologies are ultimately human. Thus, even in such new converged technologies, any elements of ubiquitous software containing perennial security issues will ultimately impact humans as the end users. With such a dependence on the ubiquitous software elements, the regulatory focus should not focus exclusively on the new converged technologies, but also consider carefully the software used in sensitive cases, which effects human rights and which can affect the social fabric of our society.
Regulation must adapt in order to avoid functional equivalence fallacies and inapplicable regulatory silos. To ensure technological transparency, coders and developers creating software falling in safety critical categories need to be warranted or licensed like other professionals in society. Software and its functions and features will also need to be audited with means to identify and rectify fault, tested and certified. It is also imperative that any input data used by software including big data is ascertained and trustworthy. The trust element in a converged digital world must start from here.
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