7. An imperative to innovate (improved technology)

NB Some new technologies will either be a spectacular failure or a booming success 

"...We are either seriously wrong or we are massively right..." 

Tata Nardini as quoted by Simon Evans et al 2018

- new mode of economic development based on knowledge, creativity and ideas with a lower ecological footprint. At the same time, some subsequent innovation could yield a decreasing margin of productivity
- technology will continue to change the way people interact and in the way people obtain information and make decisions, ie

"...technology can extend the length and improve the quality of human life. Technology allows us to find food and water and handle famines and droughts. Technology can tip the world geopolitical balance. Technology can create both build bridges, and divides, between people..."

Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

- generally technology is a combination of many gadgets, tools, and ideas. For example, the iPhone is not really brand-new technology. It brought together a bunch of existing innovative technologies in a single product. Generally technological innovation occurs when ideas are shared, ie borrowing and building upon technological innovations, theories and ideas of other people; technologies become self-selecting, ie those which improve their effectiveness are eventually adopted by many

- accelerating technological advancement owing to
i) information and knowledge based upon which future advances will be built as ever-expanded pace. Technology is just waiting for somebody to connect with other new technology

ii) rapidly advancing economies of China, India, etc are increasing their R&D efforts; as a result are they are importing less technology.

- the importance of innovation to create new markets and disrupting existing ones, eg

i) rise of regenerative medicine to extend the length and quality of human life, eg telomerase, manufacturing and transplanting replacement body parts including skin, organs, etc; on the other hand, there are ethical issues around future health inequalities resulting from income inequalities, ie as the new services will cost money, the rich will be able to afford them, while the poor will lack access to these services

"...we have the amazing intelligence and ingenuity needed to grow organs in a laboratory. But will we have the ingenuity to find ways of ensuring that life extending treatments are accessible to all people?..."

Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

Gene-editing where human organisms are developed in other species like pigs

ii) advances in energy storage systems (batteries). to create a better world, we need more energy but it is in scarce supply relative to escalating demand. The challenge of energy supply is becoming less about finding new ways to make energy and more about new ways to store energy.This is linked with the following challenges

- the fluctuating demand for electricity; with peak demand spikes at certain times, eg mass usage of heaters and/or air-conditioners. To handle these rare occasions requires a massive amount of infrastructure like poles, wires, generators, etc which are comparatively idle most of the time. Use of batteries to store electricity generated in off peak periods will negate the need for the excessive infrastructure, ie the batteries will flatten out the peaks and troughs of power consumption

- erratic nature of renewable energy sources like wind, solar, etc; solar works well when it is sunny and wind when it is windy!!!! To be most effective they will depend upon energy storage so that renewable energy systems are able to capture and store electricity when conditions are right, eg windy and/or sunny. With a greater number of energy users such as households, factories, shops, etc becoming self-sufficient, the current concept of centralised power generation is no longer valid

- electric vehicles - these have the benefit of being quiet and having low emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants when compared with conventional, fossil fuel-driven vehicles. There is a possibility of using household generated renewable energy to recharge electric vehicles and to use the vehicles' batteries to store electricity for household use when required; another possibility is to use the road itself to recharge an electric vehicles' batteries, eg solar powered road/car parks surface built from photovoltaic solar panels so that you don't need to stop at fuel stations. Solar road technology has the potential to generate enough electricity for all our needs. Hybrid vehicles can switch from renewable energy sources to fossil.

Current research on improving energy storage systems by increasing power, improving longevity, reducing recharge times and decreasing the weight of batteries. Other possible areas for advance are:

a) using nanotechnology with lithium-ion batteries
b) producing electricity by reacting hydrogen, methane and oxygen
c) developing a nanotube-enhanced ultracapacitor battery
d) using algae from seaweed so that the lithium-ion batteries can use silicon anodes rather than graphite anodes, etc
e) Graphene (Electro-chemical exfoliant)

It is made of carbon, like diamonds and coal, and has a completely different molecular structure, ie

"...The atoms are bonded in a hexagonal lattice (akin to chickenwire) that is just one atom thick in its purest form. It is the hardest substance ever tested; harder than diamonds and 200 times stronger than steel, but one which can be stretched and twisted like fabric. It is an excellent conductor of both electricity and heat and is transparent, among other qualities..."

First Graphene 2018

It was conceptualised in the 1960s and first made in 2004.

One of its uses is in super-capacitors to replace traditional batteries, eg electric cars

"...The resultant product is expected to be considerably more durable and take a much shorter time to charge than the lithium-ion battery now used in cars. Another application is in infusing graphene into carbon fibres as a coating for aeroplane wings. The resulting coating is much lighter, more resistant to impact (in-flight wear and tear on the wing), and causes less drag than a conventional carbon fibre coating. There are many others, including as a substitute for rubber that is able to withstand the extreme cold of space, or as a material that can be used for printing circuits into clothes......Many applications include its use in membranes, composite or coatings......gym shoes: where such use require a trade-off between stickiness, or grip the shoes have on gym surfaces or wet trails, and durability of shoe material..."

First Graphene 2018

iii) automation, ie artificial intelligence and autonomous systems. Robots have replaced many manual jobs as they are often safer, faster, more precise and cheaper. It is having a major impact on transportation, military, mining and agriculture industries. Some examples

a) mining. Automation will help mine in isolated areas, and also release people from jobs that are repetitive, strenuous, difficult or potentially hazardous/dangerous. Rio Tinto has moved 100 m. tonnes of rocks using a fleet of 13 drivers-less trucks in the Pilbara region (Australia). Automation in the mining industry is cost-effective, with productivity increases of up to 25% plus improvements in environmental and occupational safety. It is expected to be expanded to trains carrying ore, mining equipment (drilling, digging, etc), etc. This is heading towards a fully automated, isolated mine site being controlled by staff and computers in an urban office!!!! A similar story prevails for off-shore, ocean oil-and gas-drilling rigs. These types of technology advances change labour markets with an increased demand for highly skilled jobs and decreased demand for low skilled jobs. Overall research has shown there is an expected net gain in employment and economic growth.

b) military. Battlefields by definition are hostile and dangerous environments. Automation is replacing troops with robots to achieve objectives with fewer casualties plus provide greater precision, speed, endurance and strength. In 2015 it was expected that US military would have 1/3 of all aircraft and ground vehicles robotically controlled, eg pilotless drone aircraft and driverless trucks.

"...An autonomous robot has the capacity to diagnose a situation, identify options, select the best option, then act accordingly and with potential lethal force..."

Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

The use of robotic devices by the military raises some ethical questions. There is no problem using robots instead of people in hazardous situations like locating, disarming and removing deadly bombs. On the other hand, the use of the robotic devices cannot incorporate moral issues into their judgement the same way that humans can. But robots do not have emotions such as anger, fear or jealousy which can be associated with unethical behaviour in humans

c) agriculture (there is the potential to automate using artificial intelligence, sensory systems and robotics to reduce human labour inputs on the farm). For example, wine making where pruning vines is a time-consuming but important task. Pruning is required in winter months to ensure the emergence of new shoots with a maximum production potential; it is a labour-intensive exercise as pruning requires skilled workers. Researchers in New Zealand have developed artificial intelligence algorithms to reduce the labour burden, ie a mechanical device takes an image of the vine and the algorithms analyse the image to identify the optimal location of pruning, followed by a mechanical cutters performing the pruning automatically; it was found that the automation was better than the humans 30% of the time and as good as the humans around 90% of the time. Other examples include
# advanced sensory systems to optimise crop and pasture production,
# LIDAR (a laser mapping system, that is used in Google's driverless cars, to allow robotic devices to map and identify agricultural plans in 3-D
# BoniRob (an agricultural robot that automates tasks such as weed control, soil tillage, seeding and spraying; it could be an alternative to tractors and manual labour on farms as it has the ability to identify different types of plants and apply the right treatment
# other robotic devices include those for picking tomatoes, strawberries and apples

"...Sensory systems are continuing to improve, giving robotics new capabilities to detect sound, light, moisture, heat and a wide variety of other situational variables. Perhaps the major leaps and bounds will occur not via systems that capture more data but via systems that can interpret data..." like artificial intelligence algorithms "...artificial intelligence sits at the core of an autonomous device because it gives the device the ability to interpret its environment and make decisions..."

Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

One of the challenges is striking the right balance between human and computer control. It is hard to write computer software code that handles all feasible scenarios. One of the aims is to use automated systems in vehicles in situations where minimal judgement and instantaneous responses are required. Currently the use of radar, lasers, accurate mapping, advanced software, etc is laying the foundations for a staged transition towards full automation.

d) space entrepreneurship 

For example, nano satellites have the infrastructure in place to provide Internet connectivity for billions of Internet of Things devices, with sensors feeding data back via smart phone apps. This will provide a huge cost savings for users in agriculture, mining, logistics, marine industries, etc.. 

"...you can now have a satellite the size of a small fridge with the same capability as a satellite size of a car 10 years ago..." 

Adam Gilmore as quoted by 
Simon Evans et al 2018

Also, the launching cost and manufacturing costs are significantly less, ie the cost of launching a satellite has halved in about 7 years and the cost of manufacturing has fallen from around $ 200 m. to around $ 0.5m. On the other hand, the smaller satellites have a shorter shelf life and with technology moving so quickly, this is not seen as a significant problem. 

iv) informatics (turning masses of data into knowledge into power by using autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, etc)
It is thought that we are in the Information Age (a new capability to acquire, store, analyse and interpret vast amounts of information). It brings together different fields of research like statistics, mathematics, psychology, economics, software engineering, information technology, etc. It will help us manage natural resources efficiently with minimal waste, allocate health care resources efficiently, improve forecasts of natural disasters, allow governments and firms to interact with millions of citizens and customers directly. Some examples of artificial intelligence beating humans are
a) Deep Blue (a computer chess program developed by IBM which in 1997 defeated the current world champion Garry Kasparov),
b) Watson (a computer program developed by IBM to compete in the TV quiz show "Jeopardy" defeated the 2 best human competitors in 2011),
c) Alpha Go (a computer program developed by Google for an ancient Chinese board game called Go (claimed to be the most complicated game ever invented) beat the human world champion in early 2016)

This means that designers can give structure to unstructured problems and build computerised systems that work more efficiently and effectively than humans on certain tasks.  Information-rich and information-dependent industries like medicine, journalism, finance, legal, etc will be transformed by innovative informatics technology. These algorithms are capable of searching vast quantities of information systematically that humans could miss. For example, one company (MarketBrief)

"...its website to write up to 3000 financial stories per day, each within 0.8 - 0.9 seconds of the source information being discovered. It claims to cover 500,000 companies and analyse over 10 million documents..."

Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

These computer-generated reports are best when factual and are less likely to make mistakes than humans-generated reports.

"...the world generates 2.5 quintrillion bytes of data every day......estimates that 90% of the data in the world was generated in the last 2 years..."

IBM as quoted in Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

Data is being generated by increasingly diverse sources like satellite remote-sensing systems, electromagnetic telescopes, social media, digital cameras, online documents, stock exchange, etc. The sheer amount of data is now called "big data" (for more details see other parts of this publication).  It involves developing faster, more efficient and effective ways to capture, analyse and interpret vast quantities of digital data to help people make better choices in every sphere of government, industry and society.  This analysis makes use of "data exhaust", ie the digital trail people leave behind when they search for information, buy or sell goods, express thoughts on social media or travel, etc. Some concerns around the use of this information involve privacy and confidentiality.  Some positive uses of big data include
- improved forecasting about human and natural disasters like famine, floods, droughts, migration, etc
- firms/governments can interact 1-for-1 with millions of customers, ie allows retailers to know what customers want even before the customer does!!!!
- identifying trends, eg investment choices, employment, agricultural commodity prices, etc
- finding new resource deposits for mining

"...innovative informatics will change our jobs, industries and lifestyles..."
Stefan Hajkowicz, 2015

v) more innovative ways of extracting, using and recycling resources, eg aluminium drink cans - in 1970 1 kg of aluminium made 48 drink cans - owing to innovative technology, by 2005 it makes 73 cans!!!!
vi) innovation is required to handle challenges like increased infectious disease risk in a mobile world, the rise of drug-resistance microorganisms, world poverty, income inequality, etc
- 24/7


Need to move the debate from technology's direct impact like automation, efficiency, speed, connectivity, etc to how to make the world a better place using technology, ie

"...these debates are as much about ethics, morality and cultural philosophy and the world technology appears to be creating as they are about technology itself..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

Debates continue around ethics in technology, eg data privacy and ownership, the right to be forgotten and algorithmically transparent, etc

Genevieve Bell believes that if we envisage a better world, which is better than many, not just ourselves as individuals, we are morally obliged to implement it by advocating it passionately

"...historically, we've backed ourselves with a big of vision of what we stood for analysing wonders for ourselves, our families, each other and our country. Things that would not have happened without a bigger vision, and things that at times ran counter to market forces and conventional wisdom.....We need to keep reasserting the importance of people, and the diversity of our lived experiences, into our conversation about technology and the future. It is easy to get seduced by all the potential of the new wonders technology promises......Over the last quarter century, the Internet, Web, mobile phones, at this, and now algorithms have found their way into our daily practices. We move from analogue to digital, and digital to data centric. The data centric world seemed benign at first - smartness has helped us. Devices and services you ask, gave us recommendations that food and books and movies and news, helped us remember past words, and websites, and make sure we didn't get lost or stuck in traffic. More recently those devices and services remind us to walk more, to vote, to leave for the airport. They promised us better dates and hook-ups, better travel times, ticket prices, cheap data plans because we were in the airport, advance warning which fires in our area, and reminders to take umbrellas or wear sunscreen. They helped label our photos, and curate our memories, and find our friends. And it turns out they have been shaping our conversations, our views, and our attitudes......computer records, at a scale we can't had anticipated, have ensured that much is known about us. The Internet was a place where we would be anonymous but instead it was a place where we would be exquisitely and absolutely known......along the way it stopped being about bits of information and became what information revealed when accumulated and aggregate. and more significantly still, what greater patterns and rules can be discerned from my information, and your information, and a whole lot of other people's information to. We have been produced, in this way, to our past data and patterns it produced...... it can be automated..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

Linked with this are algorithms (a set of instructions that tells the computer what to do) that reflect on how the world works, ie they are riddled with human biases and flawed logic, eg we have seen algorithms that were racist, sexist, heteronormative, violent, competitive, lawbreaking, aggressive, etc. Also we have lived with the more benign and invisible ones for years that are used by the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, etc.. Algorithms are the building blocks from which artificial intelligence (AI) is created. It is the idea of manufacturing human-like intelligence with reasoning, rational thought, decision and strategic abilities. Questions (Turing Test) related to this include

- Will machines think?
- Will machines reason like people?
- Can they fool us into believing they are human?
- What distinguishes people from machines?
- What might be the consequences of machines achieving intelligence and capability of independent thought?
- Would the thinking be like our own thought processes, or might it represent a new form of reason?

(source: Genevieve Bell, 2017)

This is based on the assumption that

"...every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. Can machines make languages, form abstraction and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans and improve themselves..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

This means viewing people as mechanistic, reducible to electoral impulses and operant conditioning, ie replace stimulus with data that is measurable and mechanistic. AI is more than just technology, It is an assembly of cultural and technical things and human agendas that are fuelled by ideas about our humanness and our capacities with our idiosyncrasies like biases and flaws.

"...the idea of raising a machine in our likeness is a lasting human preoccupation, but it seems the notion of things coming to fruition is also driven through with anxiety..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

The digital world is about 3 things, ie speed, smartness (like artificial intelligence) and connectivity (24/7). Linked with this is what does it mean to be human in a world of digital technologies. To understand this better, we need to understand how we have handled past technological changes.

"...all technologies have a history and knowing those histories doesn't mean we can predict the future, but it does mean we can ask better questions of our future..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

On the other hand, it is comforting to imagine the past might hold lessons for the future. But it can be misleading as history does not necessary repeat itself!!!!

Some examples

- Typewriters were a significant breakthrough in mechanising writing. In the mid 19th century, the new commerce around the Industrial Revolution required a significant increase in paperwork and bookkeeping for industries like banking, insurance, taxation, regulation, publishing, advertising, accounting, etc. With pen and paper the average bookkeeper could write around 30 words a minute; then stenography was developed and it was basically 4 times faster than writing alone and close to the speed of speaking. Then the typewriter was invented and used to automate writing completely in the late 19th century. It was felt that women would handle the typewriter better than men as they were more patient and detailed focused. The presence of women in the workforce drove a range of other social and structural changes like need for woman's facilities at work. Disposable income in the hands of single women drove new cultural activities and helped underwrite things as diverse as penny dreadful novels, department stores, new entertainment experiences, and helped unlock the late 19th century suffragettes' movement.

"...a technology's legacies lingered long beyond the moment it was relevant..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

- Robots were in use before the Digital age started. They are smart, technical objects that use artificial intelligence (see below). They vary from large industrial machines to simple self-check out machines at a retail store.

Our imagination has been stimulated to consider whether or not robots will be developed so that they can control us. Robots

"...taking firm root in fiction, radio, film, television and cartoons. The tension between mechanical perfection and the death of humanity plays out over and over again, and our imaginations were progressively fueled by more and more sophisticated robots..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

How much is science fiction or science fact?

- Electricity as a network infrastructure could have lessons for the Internet. Electricity started out as providing light, ie street lights in the late 19th century. State-funded infrastructure and private/commercial enterprise provided a patchwork of connections to electrify sport venues, theatres, pubs, entertainment and cultural experiences were important drivers.

Electricity was not a popular choice for everyone, eg Australian gas companies fought back by successfully campaigning to keep stoves connected to gas and provided free cooking lessons.

It is not a case of here is new technology, so adapted it. New technologies do not always supersede the old ones.

For electricity, there were alternatives like gas, candles, windows, daylight, etc. Also, some of the initial negatives of electricity were the noise of the engine generating electricity, the lights were different from what people were familiar with (brighter than gas and produced a different colour spectrum), and the cosmetic unattractiveness of the wooden poles with wires attached that carry the electricity.

To encourage the use of electricity

"...the development of a whole host of appliances, both electrifying old ones and creating new ones, helped drive adoption and uptake. There were concerted efforts to engage...... public with the merits of electricity. Advertising, public demonstrations, showrooms, travelling door-to-door salesman and electricians, cultural spectacles......, the picture palaces and cinemas..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

In Australia, organisations like the Country Women's Association took an active role in educating the public about how to manage electricity; "electric" cookbooks were published including instructions on how to manage electricity, electrical appliances and repair them.

These developments generate some important questions like

What is getting connected? Why? And how?
What drives infrastructure rollout? Efficiencies? A government or civic agenda? Cultural aspirations or experiences?
Who is doing the connecting, and what is their motive?
Will the network evolve and change over time?
What are the other voices in the story and what might be their themes?
What will it lead to?

- Computing history has been linked with speed, ie doing things faster, and automation, ie needing fewer people to do the same job. Early computers were sophisticated typewriters and calculators used for developing models on weather forecasting, economic analysis, building designs, electricity supply, etc. Software or programming language emerged later to handle these computers. Then

"...The whole idea of computing evolve from being about complex calculations of scientific and military activities to computing as a necessary part of modern corporations. It became about business..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

Computers promised to streamline work, increase efficiencies and liberate humans from drudgery and repetitive tasks.

Computers are getting faster and more powerful, ie what used to take a room full of computers can now be done on a handheld device. Also, they have changed shape and direction.

"...They went from mainframes to personal computers to mobile phones back to mainframes again, as servers that power the cloud that makes digital applications and services possible..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

At one stage the Internet was a way of connecting the world's computers and all of us. This network allowed data to move more freely and without dedicated, pre-existing, fixed connections.

"...They seemed to make the world available to everyone; the Web would be about true democracy, transparency, and a place where we could transcend our bodies and their limitations..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

"...the ultimate seduction of the digital world at its best - the future is right here, in your hand, and it seems so natural. You forget to ask where it came from, or why, or what will happen next. It's easy to be enthralled with the logic of new technologies; their promises of efficiency or fun, or some new kind of experience that will revolutionise everything..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

New technologies rarely spring from consumer demand and/or work landscapes; they often come from unexpected places like robots from a play in Prague. They take some time to get to their current state. They usually start based on somebody's curiosity. New technologies change the way we do things but rarely in the ways we expect. Also, their timescale is unpredictable.


"...the role of government, of the market, of cultural forces and regulations, can all say how technology arrives or doesn't..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

Most new technologies are polarising, ie

"...the introduction of most technology is accompanied by utopian and dystopian narratives. Whatever the technology in question, we seem to perpetuate the notion that will change everything for the better or destroy everything we know and love. We talk about fast, smart and connected that way. The reality is usually far less stark. Most technologies do indeed change things. Rarely the things we anticipate and rarely in the ways we anticipate, and usually not as quickly as we predicted, or a seamlessly - bits of other technologies, infrastructures and networks keep peeping through......We need to know where the technologies come from, who built them, why and where, what people hope and imagine for them, and what the tacit assumptions buried within them are..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

Some more thoughts

- Building a new approaches. The emerging data-driven part of the digital world requires us to think holistically and differently, ie we need to think outside the box

"...Either the engineers must become poets, or the poets must become engineers..."

Norbert Wiener as quoted by Genevieve Bell, 2017

"...Rather than just tweaking existing disciplines, we need to develop a new set of critical questions and perspectives......we will need new practitioners to tame and manage these new technologies, as well as those to regulate and govern them. Thinking through how to build a digital world in which we want to live requires asking hard and thorny questions about the nature of our humanness and how we might want to model that going forward..."

Genevieve Bell, 2017

New technologies are highlighting a shift in the acquisition of suitable skills, ie from labour-intensive, manual tasks to more cognitive tasks, and a change of teaching methods to adapt to new demands of the labour market as more tasks become susceptible to automation. This has resulted in a worrying increase in technological unemployment, especially with the ageing of the workforce.



Search For Answers

designed by: bluetinweb

We use cookies to provide you with a better service.
By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as set in our policy. I understand