July 21st 2016 archive

Robots, Designer Babies and Digitisation – Reading Response No. 1


After reading the selected excerpts of Klaus Schwab’s The Fourth Industrial Revolution, I felt a strange mixture of excitement and fear. There’s no questioning the fact that recent technological developments and future trends have and will drastically alter the state of the world that we live in, but whether it be for the better or worse in the long run is still up for debate.

Schwab begins by identifying the physical, digital and biological drivers and megatrends that have essentially crafted the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’ It’s amazing to consider the fact that automated cars might become the norm, that we as humans might collaborate with robots on a regular basis, and that synthetic biology could repair injury and eliminate disease. Most relevant to the media industry is of course the growing phenomenon of digitisation. The Internet, for example, has reinvented the state of the economy, changed the nature of work and has provided individuals with a modern sense of community and an opportunity to make their voices heard. At surface value, these innovations are mind-blowing and have begun, and will likely continue to, benefit our economy and quality of life.

However, Schwab not only draws attention to the advantages of the revolution, but also the undeniable implications. One of the things that stood out for me was the inequalities that would be further exacerbated by the continued proliferation of digital technologies. Developing countries and social groups of a lower class might become further ostracised as they do not have the resources to gain access to such technologies and information. Additionally, those who are tech-savvy will inevitably have significant advantages over those who are not. It becomes the responsibility of the government to step in and improve accessibility, availability and education in order to overcome these issues – but this is easier said than done.

Further, the effects of the revolution on society’s behaviours and attitudes are also a cause for concern. Schwab identifies how synthetic biology may lead to the standardisation of designer babies. This immediately made me think of the film Gatacca (1997), a sci-fi drama in which individual’s capabilities are determined strictly by their genetic makeup. While at the time of its release the concept was unimaginable, after reading this text, it doesn’t even seem that far-fetched. The fact that science fiction could become a reality is slightly terrifying to say the least. Schwab also highlights how the increased use of digital devices might lead to a decline in face-to-face sociability and the ability to feel empathy. Sadly, I feel as though we are already headed in this direction as our digital devices have essentially become an extension of our bodies and identities. The internet and social media has altered our lifestyle so much in such a short span of time that I’m kind of scared to see where it takes us next.

This text was certainly eye opening and positioned me to discover that I have a lot of mixed feelings towards the subjects covered. Innovation and enterprise are of course essential to our economy moving forward, but that’s not to say they don’t come without their complications.