Like many children, I grew up with a fascination of science fiction. In particular I loved Star Trek, a TV franchise set in the distant future featuring technology that appeared so advanced it could be thought as nearly magical. However, as I grew older I realised that it was not just the technology that aroused my interest in Star Trek but the social commentary the series provided.
Now my career immerses me in the technology industry I find myself coming back to science fiction looking for inspiration, for Star Trek in particular is a wonderfully optimistic portrayal of the future where mankind can help solve other species’ problems and conflicts as we have by the time the series is set reached a technological sophistication and societal enlightenment sufficient to overcome our own.
Societal Enlightenment and Technological Sophistication. These concepts really are what I intend this blog to boil down to. How are we thinking about the application of technology during the design process? What are the ethical and moral considerations of the development and usage of the next generation Data Science and Artificial Intelligence systems?
When I’ve spoken in the past to people about this question I’ve often had the question brushed off as trivial philosophy, more suited to science fiction than to a serious debate. Increasingly, however – the debate is necessary. Data Science has, in just five years transformed into an industry which was technically limited to being one where the breakthroughs allow an unprecedented level of complex analysis in ways that we previously never thought possible. Those of us following the Artificial Intelligence industry see that the same advances are being made in this field too. While we may still be many decades or even generations away from facing potential existential threats from the technology we are creating, I believe there is no time like the present to start the debate around the ethical questions we are creating for ourselves. In particular, I’m curious to see what (if anything) we can learn from science fiction in helping us answer these questions.
I hope in time to interview a cross section of participants in the development of this blog, from the writers who write the story lines of science fiction TV and film, to the technologists who are building the very machinery which features in it. I’m also interested to get the view of people not associated with either (and even not interested in either) to get a feel for how people perceive the technology. I believe the first impact we are going to see will be in the workplace – in particular the automation of jobs which have previously been thought of as indispensable. Over time it will be interesting to track some of the predictions about the rate of progress of the industry, and I hope one day will be an interesting historical perspective as to how those of us living in the early years of the 21st Century imagined our future world to operate and to what extent we planned and thought through sufficiently the challenges you, the future reader will have faced and lived through.