Since the Industrial Revolution, technology has changed society continuously. The pace of technological development has accelerated over the last 50 years, largely due to innovations in semiconductor electronics, software, and computer technology.
Personal computers now fit in your pocket. You have access to people and information around the world via the Internet. Anything up to the size of a small building can be printed. Just about everything – from your home to your car – is becoming intelligent.
Yet every leap in technology is accompanied by concerns over its potential use or misuse. Recently, concerns have been expressed ranging from the use of artificial security to smart weapons and invincible hacking bots, to 3D printed guns that are undesirable by traditional security scanners.
Unfortunately, just like news, by the time people become concerned about potential negative applications or misuse of technology, misuse is already possible.
Innovation is the catalyst for future innovation. Consequently, an innovation by one person or organization enables and encourages innovations by others.
Consider that the initial innovation in 3D printing is an innovation capable of printing using a wide variety of materials, ranging from metals and glass to ceramics, using plastics. Likewise, 3D printing led to innovations in cars, buildings, and yes, even guns.
The process happened so fast that 3D-printed weapons plans were well available before airing recent concerns about the release of such weapon plans. This topic is currently the focus of government bodies and various organizations. The fact is, regulations have not curbed the development of technology, nor is it likely to stop its spread.
Additionally, many innovations are the result of research for malicious purposes – or, as we like to call them, defense. I have been in the tech industry for over 30 years and have spent a lot of time working around military and aerospace applications. Most people do not realize that many innovations in our lives are a direct result of military and aerospace applications and other government-conducted research.
Everything from wireless communication to the predecessor of the Internet to autonomous vehicles has been a focus of government research. In the US, funding comes from many sources, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, NASA, and many other organizations.
As a result, a new technology is often developed and implemented in many types of applications before society is aware of it, or expressed concern about it – long before it is used in consumer applications. Government applications often include weapons.
Note that this pattern is not limited to electronics. The same is true for energy, chemical, biomedical and other forms of technology. Additionally, advances in one form of technology often enable advances in other forms of technology.
Advances in AI are making rapid advances in other technologies to enable the ability to build models and enable simulation processing larger and faster than humans. As a result, technology is advancing so rapidly that it is very impossible to see all possible outcomes, yet applications, beforehand.
This may be one reason why the entertainment industry often portrays the future negatively – and therefore often as a result of technology. This reflects our collective fear of those unintended consequences.
Place trust in people
Nevertheless, today technology affects every aspect of our lives. Technology is also an important driver in economic development and the origin of wealth. Technology companies are moving into global stock markets, and the technology they develop is powering more investors in those markets.
Therefore, despite some negative effects of technology, the world usually benefits from continuous progress.
While many believe that there should be some curb or control over certain technologies, the reality is that regulators are often ignorant about the technology, and bureaucrats cannot react rapidly to have a significant impact on its progress.
Given the effects of technology on the economy and society, it is unclear whether regulators should interfere with the pace of technological innovation.
Innovation comes in everything from garage tinkers to multibillion-dollar organizations. If regulators tried to control the founders of Apple and Microsoft, or would current tech leaders like Amazon and Google try?