Ethical questions for future technology

By   |  January 27, 2006

An annual survey of 300 futurists, academics and business people from 28 countries by the Global Future Forum (GFF) has found that future technology needs answers to ethical questions.

Speaking at a public lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday, David Smith, CEO of the GFF, says: “Technology is getting faster and smaller all the time – this we know from Moore’s law. However, life expectancy and quality of life and technology’s ability to alter it, is going to create a number of moral choices for people.”

Scientists are predicting that computers will have the processing power of a human brain in approximately 20 years from now. Research is being done on the brain and how it processes information and whether those processes can be replicated. “The big question society will have to answer is whether it wants computers thinking like humans?” says Smith.

Technology will also have to change as peoples’ desire for better service increases, while personal information is becoming something people are less willing part with.

“The survey found that there is a 92% chance that service would be a key differentiator and a 95% chance that people will want to control what information is transmitted about them. And as people become more independent, they will not only demand higher levels of service, but products that are specifically tailored to their needs.

“This means that companies will have to be able to understand what customers want, capture their personal information, pass that information through a host of partners or outsourced entities, integrate it into CRM systems, make the necessary changes to the product quickly and deliver it back through the channel to the customer.

“The companies that can do that efficiently, providing a dynamically priced product without compromising the customers’ personal information, will earn the trust of its customers,” he says. The survey found an 89% likelihood that this way of selling would become the norm in the next five years.

On a business level, Smith says there will be an increase in ‘free agent’ portfolio workers, particularly amongst the younger and older age groups who will frequently work for traditionally competing firms.

People will want to look after their own futures and will therefore be less likely to work for corporates for the duration of their time in the working world. This will lead to flexible networked companies becoming standard.

Convergence will also lead to companies having to change their marketing strategies as sectors and products begin to overlap. Smith uses the example of digital cameras and mobile phones converging.

“Digital camera companies have used the number of megapixels a camera has to promote the product. However, mobile phone companies have cottoned onto this fact with Samsung due to release a ten megapixel camera this year. Companies producing digital cameras will therefore have to change this strategy and focus on other aspects of cameras like the lens and their other features in order to distinguish cameras from mobile phones,” Smith says.

Convergence is also resulting in more complex devices which are harder for the user to come to grips with. If a digital camera and a mobile phone and all the functionality they carry were to be combined into one device, it would be overly complex. “The survey showed that 75% of businesses saying they were struggling to cope with change,” Smith says.

We can expect an even more dynamic society by 2009. “People’s expectations are changing as consumers and workers. They expect to be treated as individuals and are less prepared to sell their souls to the corporations. People want to be more self dependent.

“Along with increasing service expectations, products are changing and becoming dynamically priced and personalised and offered via flexible, networked organisations of partnerships and alliances led by CEO’s who will be more closely monitored by shareholders than ever before. People will desire strong protection of personal information and hold a lack of belief that government will act to make things better or safer for them.”

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