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Technology That May Impact Our Future — The Wednesday Keynote

Larry Magid

Larry Magid

Larry Magid, CEO, ConnectSafely.org, columnist for the San Jose Mercury and Forbes.com, and a Tech Analyst for CBS News, has been covering technology since the 1980s. In common with many other speakers, he noted that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here is his list of technologies that have significantly affected our environment :

  • Hardware: The IBM PC, Apple 2, and Mac computers,
  • The Windows operating system,
  • The commercial internet,
  • Search engines that fundamentally changed the way we acquire knowledge,
  • Smartphones: The Blackberry, iPhone, and Android.
Technological change

We are now on the precipice of amazing technological changes such as voice recognition. The Google Pixel Phone even has some artificial intelligence in it. (Larry demonstrated the phone and how it can converse with him.) The phone can converse in different languages, which means that we are approaching simultaneous translation, and that will make a whole profession disappear. Facial recognition is already here; Larry’s computer can look at his face, recognize him, and let him log in. This technology is already being used by law enforcement; there is a database of 117 million faces that is available to them. We must recognize that privacy is disappearing.

Artificial intelligence–machines mimicking cognitive functions–still has a long way to go. Huge investments are being made by Google and IBM to make machines smarter. Soon machines will teach other machines to get smarter, which has major implications. Knowledge workers will be very much affected by AI. Reference librarians will not necessarily be replaced by computers, but they will be augmented by them. The information profession has evolved, but we still need the human interaction and that will not go away.

Manufacturing will come back to the US, but not necessarily the jobs.  Cheap energy will make robotic processes possible. People will have to design, repair, and program the robots. We are seeing the annihilation of high paying jobs without a college education. These changes will have profound implications for our workforce. The world must embrace the technology and build a society that profits from it.

Drones are here and will become more widespread. There is already a company in Silicon Valley that has drones in Rwanda delivering medicine to remote communities, and Amazon has said that they will use them to deliver packages. There are many privacy implications of this. We have an aging population; telemedicine will soon make it unnecessary to go to a doctor’s office because there will be robotic nurses and pharmacies.

The other side of technology

Things are also changing in ways that are not so great. We need to help kids be safer on the internet. Cyber bullying is an issue for both kids and adults; 60% of young women have been harassed online. If you make a comment on a news article, you can become fodder for abuse. Hatred is becoming widespread; attacks are nothing new, but they have gotten worse in the last few years. Some people have had to leave systems because they became too emotional for them. We see this in the current election campaign. An increasing number of minorities are becoming very depressed after watching the news. These effects will not go away. All of us who work with children, communities, and information need to rethink our roles.

In all of our jobs, we interact with people. Compassion, empathy, kindness, and leadership cannot be replaced by a computer.  Those who work with children have an especially important role. Think through your role and how you interact with people. There is reason for optimism but also for cynicism. Help people understand that we can overcome divisiveness, which will take a concerted effort and leadership. There is reason to be optimistic about the technological revolution.

In response to a question, Larry said that anonymity has its place and has some positive aspects, but it does not mean that you are not accountable.