Our world is becoming increasingly digital and by that, I mean that we are turning information from analog into zeroes and ones and how we operate physical technologies, such as drones, autonomous vehicles, robots and 3D printing which are all driven by zeroes and ones…software. Information is how we operate and create these technologies. Even biotechnologies such as CRISPR for gene editing is fundamentally driven by zeroes and ones. Information is what informs how we structure our world, societies, cultures, politics and personal lives.
In a previous post, I discussed that based on the lived experience of our species and how we’ve co-evolved with technology (technogenesis), we have enough understanding of all technologies (from hammers to quantum computing) that we can formulate precepts to guide our management and regulation of technology.
But we must look at a higher order in this sense. The layer, if you will, that sits over top of the five precepts of technology. These I call the 6 principles of technology. Where we think of technologies at a bigger, overarching scale. These principles then overlay the precepts. So we have three layers; principles, precepts and axioms. I’ll detail axioms later.
Defining Digital Technologies
First, let’s define digital technologies versus other technologies. A hammer, axe, car, train, aeroplane, helicopter, screwdriver are all technologies. A technology is any device that harnesses a phenomena. An aeroplane harnesses the phenomena of aerodynamics. A hammer, force and car, that of friction. Digital technologies harness anything we can turn into zeroes and ones, that we can “digitize”. CRISPR technologies can turn genetic sequences into zeroes and ones, as with DNA testing. 3D printing takes concepts and designed in our minds, turns them into zeroes and ones and then prints objects. Thos objects come from zeroes and ones. Video, pictures, voice and text can now be reduced to zeroes and ones. Any information can be digitized. Information is how we organize and run our world.
Because digital technologies are impacting every facet of our lives today and will for the foreseeable future, we must address them in ways we’ve not had to address prior technologies. We figured out rules for cars and trucks fairly quickly and most don’t do very well off of a paved or constructed road of some sort. We set rules and regulations for aeroplanes so that we could quite safely hop all over the planet. With digital technologies however, we’ve gone a bit loopy. Take cryptocurrencies for example. The energy required to mine one Bitcoin is equal to 25 loads of laundry. Yet we mine them intensely along with other cryptocurrencies blithely ignoring the energy and environmental cost. If you added in that cost to a cryptocurrency, they would make no economic sense in terms of inputs to create the output. It costs less than a load of laundry to create paper dollars. Politically, disinformation on social media sites have already caused untold damage to democracies and caused the suicides of hundreds of thousands through cyberbullying, pedophilia and other forms of abuse. Autonomous vehicles will have to decide whether they kills the passenger or people on the street. Yet we have no rules around this. No regulation, no insurance policies, no method to place culpability. Physical technologies have greater limitations and more immediate implications than do digital technologies, so we set rules fairly quickly. If you don’t maintain an aeroplane it will fall out of the sky and people will die. Western powers thought social media would lead to a tidal wave of new democracies. It didn’t. It lead to an increase in autocracy and resulted in thousands upon thousands of deaths. Now, social media is playing a role in the decline of democracies around the world, yet there are no regulations and weak attempts to deal with it. Governments have abrogated their responsibilities and largely left it up to industry to regulate, who hasn’t because it impacts shareholder value. It has become okay to kill people via social media, but not on an aeroplane. While this may seem dark, we have an opportunity and it is likely, when governments and citizens catch up, that we may find a path forward. We just need to know where we stand and understand the roles and impacts of digital technologies on humanity and our planet. So, not much of an ask!
Over top of the precepts of digital technologies, we need to look at the bigger scale of things. How digital technologies are impacting our world, comities, cultures, economies and environment. So here, in very short form, I have defined the 6 principles of digital technologies. They will be expanded upon in my forthcoming book.
6 Principles of Digital Technologies
In the diagram below, I indicated Core Technology. These are any digital technology, from blockchain and artificial intelligence to biotechnology, quantum computing and robotics.
- Energy: Digital technologies require energy to work. From batteries to engines. Electricity is needed to run elective vehicles, mine cryptocurrencies, make Artificial Intelligence work, power our smartphones, tablets and laptops and all those devices in our homes from lightbulbs to smart speakers. The demand on our ability to generate energy is growing. Can it be sustained?
- Environment: We are running short on sand. Wait, what? It is sand that makes the screens for our devices and more. Fossil fuels are causing environmental damage at massive scales. Then there’s all the pollution from creating batteries and the demand on rare earth materials…they’re rare for a reason, that go into all our devices.
- Economics: With digital currencies, economic powers and banking are being impacted. Knowledge workers, automation in factories, AI in the knowledge sector, mobile devices, gig work, less people working in offices…economic models are changing and we need tp consider the impacts and shifts with new and emerging digital technologies.
- Politics: At the local, municipal level with open data initiatives through to provincial/state level impacts on taxation, digital business models to geopolitics sun as the weaponization of artificial intelligence, blockchain for international aid to counter corruption, drones for war and rescue. Politics is part of human society and digital technologies impact all levels and globally.
- Culture: As we share cultures across social media and through other technologies, we are able to understand each other better, but we also find more division. From food to music, digital technologies have an impact on cultures. Some will be lost, some will become more known.
- Society: Human societies run on information, from communication to organisation. How we treat one another, how we integrate globally and locally. We need to explore and understand how digital technologies are affecting our societies and the social constructs that are changing.
For each digital technology, from drones and blockchain to biotechnologies, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and robotics, we can apply thinking along the lines of these six principles to those that are emerging and how they’ll evolve in our world. Will technology shape us or can we shape technologies so that we can thrive and evolve as a species? Big questions.