Monday, 27 September, 2021

Digital Progress Baffles Life


Narayan Prasad Ghimire

Digital technology has penetrated every sector that human beings are unable to avoid. Interestingly, we are, knowingly and unknowingly, digging the way that foists the threats of digital technology, which ultimately regulate our behaviour. The pervasive technology has now a bigger say in our political sphere and collective life. The fundamental assumptions of politics are disrupted in a way that is benefitting a handful of people, leaving a huge population aside.
It is not only against the political assumption that everyone equal, but also widening the divide. Politics fails to deal well with super-intelligent beings who exploit the most advanced technology of the modern time. Politics deals with justice, liberty, equality, power, authority. When advance technology fed with algorithm and machine learning decide the justice, how can it ensure justice in real sense? The coding algorithm does yield an unjust result, argues Jamie Susskind in his book, ‘Future Politics: Living Together in A World Transformed by Tech’. When a human loses the character of being human, how can politics work, he wonders?
"Today, the most important revolutions are taking place not in philosophy departments, nor even in parliaments and city squares, but in laboratories, research facilities, tech firms, and data centres. Most involve developments in digital technology." These lines have a strong message that the traditional sources of knowledge and power shifted to the technological sphere that too is -digital technology.
The debates of philosophies in universities, deliberation on bills and discussion on laws at parliament, interactions at public places are losing relevance with the arrival and amplification of digital technology. The human difficulty to negotiate this transition- the awful age, the age of trepidation, is well explored by Susskind in this book.
Drawing references from different sources, Susskind sheds light on how technology has integrated into human life and works. He mentions: "The world population of robots is now more than 10 million, of which more than one million perform useful works (robots, for instance, now account for 80 per cent of the work in manufacturing a car.) Amazon's robots, which look like roving footstools, number more than 15,000. … Ninety per cent of crop spraying in Japan is done by unmanned drones. Using advanced robotics, a team of surgeons in the United States was able to remove the gall bladder of a woman in France, nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic." These are wonderful achievements in technology that have largely benefited humankind. With technology, the works are eased, reshaped and transformed. He further shares the information that human kidneys, livers, and other organs, as well as blood vessels, are in development. Such information is astounding to us. The book brings forth several other achievements in the sector of nanotechnology and constitutive technology- happening in different countries across the globe.
The ultramodern technology is fed with data. Data is the core of digital technology which is again the robust pillar of a knowledge-based economy. Data is the oil, of course. Now, anyone with voluminous data controls the system, shapes the world order in the way he/she likes to. For example, the tech giants Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google have gathered billion's data which are influencing global affairs.
Although the above-mentioned achievements are made possible with the help of data and digital technology, the development dividend is not equal. It is imbalanced and tilted. The tech firms have such capability that they easily grip the people irrespective of political faith. Even the elections are intervened by them. The example of Facebook penetrating voters during US elections is an egregious example. This book also brings this reference with much importance.
Again, let's imagine, how many countries have a population equal to the number of Facebook users? No, all are behind. How many countries do lag in using Twitter in terms of respective populations? Many. These are again the data that the big tech firms play with. "Data will be the economic lifeblood of the digital lifeworld. Whoever controls its flow will wield considerable economic clout." Modern life is increasingly quantified. 'Programme, or be programmed' is what happens in the quantified age.
Similarly, new discourses are created and agendas set online. Political parties and leaders are far behind in terms of tech companies to influence their cadres and voters. The political revolutions are far behind the tech revolutions. The speed and intensity of the revolution caused by digital technology are unimaginable. As such, how do we protect political values- free and fair election, freedoms and democracy? Susskind worries. He says: future stalks us.
Moreover, the writer’s dwelling on democracy is equally promising and appalling. In light of the advancement in digital technology, Susskind brings different forms of democracy that may approach us- direct democracy, wiki democracy, data democracy, and AI democracy. He says: the digital lifeworld will challenge us to decide which aspects of democracy are most important to us.
Now, with such tremendous social and economic transformation caused by digital technology, how do politics work? How do we manage our collective life? It is a crucial moment to ponder. The future is imminent and alarming. The book gives a meticulous glimpse of how the world will be where technology shapes every aspect of life. In the book, the writer has brought several stories, example, thoughts and theories and their relevance in the digital world. From John Stuart Mill to Karl Marx and Lawrence Lessig, his references make the book rich and riveting.
This book can serve as a wake-up call to all lawmakers, politicians, thinkers, policymakers, philosophers, businesspersons, teachers and campaigners. Will politics run the way they (politicians, leaders) were running? Will the political parties survive in the way they survived in the past? Do businesses, corporate houses and organisations thrive the way they did?
The book strongly urges all to redefine their roles and responsibilities in line with the changes technology has brought. The failure to internalise the humongous change- the transformation indeed- is a failure after all. This is what the digital life is all about!
The book is published by Oxford University Press.