Renaissance of the Self

Future scenario | The Future of New Media Class
Written together with Skylar Jessen, Francesca Rodriguez Sawaya and Anneka Goss

Renaissance of the Self is a future scenario exploring plausible future for the next 15 years (starting 2016). Written for Future of New Media class.
Read for full text below.

First of all, let me tell you something… Everything is going to be ok.
This is the future in which technology blends into the background of our daily lives and is successfully implemented as a tool to help enable human connection and understanding, provide solutions to environmental, societal, and governmental problems, and is not just used to sell us things, collect our data, and get us to spend time with it.
This is a 10 year journey through a time of despair, a breaking point, moving into hope and settling into determination.
This is the Renaissance of Self.

April 18th, 2016
So today is April 18th, 2016.
AI. 40% of the world’s population is now online. As never before we can easily access data about people’s behavior, interests, knowledge, connections and activities — which in a form of data is a raw material for machine learning.
DATA. Data brokers collect billions of pieces of data on nearly every US consumer from online and offline sources, with only about a third offering the ability for consumers to opt-out. Data is aggregated into an individual profile and later sold for commercial use or research.
CONNECTION & UNDERSTANDING. 2 billion smartphones are being used every day, changing the way we communicate, understand and interact with one another in huge ways.
CLIMATE CHANGE. Even though 2015 was declared the warmest year since 1880, an important percentage of the population still doesn’t believe in the real consequences of Global Warming.
So let’s move from today to about 2 years from now.

2017 – 2018 despair
2017 receives us with despair.
(climate change) NASA just announced yesterday that global temperature in 2017 has exceeded the one recorded in the previous year, the official warmest year on record since the reliable measurement began in 1880. All the analysis suggest that if temperatures persist at these high levels, the global temperature will reach the 2 degree Celsius increase, one of the biggest fears of the International Community.
(data) A massive influx in consumer data encourages insurance companies, governments and businesses to increase their use of automated decision making.  Data brokers combine information into a centralized but invisible database and assign all consumers a FICO-like score for every aspect of their lives. Consumers are no longer able to opt-out of the data mining in any sense.
A major shift in social media starts happening when people start removing others from their online lives based off of difference in ideas.
(connection) As the data of our social networks is being used in ways that may work against us, we begin to see aspects of the technology that was intended to connect us and bring us together actually pushing us apart.
In this time we see an increase of children’s time spent in front of screens rise to 80%, this is paired with studies showing that the developmental markers for empathy and understanding of others are significantly behind within the children of this generation when compared to those before them.
(AI) More and more conversational bots that learn and adapt to us are being introduced to the market. Everyone can code own bot.
Starting Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement at F8 conference in April, 2016, more and more businesses join the movement.
At the same time to avoid the possible threats of AI development, thousands of scientists and engineers sign an agreement against development of autonomous(autOOnomos) weaponized machines and join the efforts of researchers who signed the paper in 2016.
(additional: back in 2016 the number of AI/Robotics researchers supporting this initiative was 3105 together with 17k other endorsers).

2020-2021 enough is enough
(AI) This brings us to a breaking point. A so called “enough is enough” period. An enormous pace of AI development leads us to a few major tragedies:
  • Despite of international agreement against autonomous weapons as mentioned before, country governments keep developing it for their own benefit. One of such automated systems built to target and eliminate terrorist threats kills a big number of innocent civilians. Something that could be avoided if humans would have taken that decision.
  • Around the same time due to software errors a large number of criminals around the world are being released from prisons prior their time.
(data) The cultural borders of social media move into physical world and start a new segregation among people.
Unchecked automated decisions and data analysis algorithms begin to dramatically reinforce existing social inequalities by profiling against minority groups or groups that are disadvantaged.  This results in steeply rising insurance rates, search warrants and mass unemployment leading to riots in large cities.
Mass protests soon call for the implementation of “Civil Rights Principles for Data”.
(connection) So where we see this binary and automated approach to decision making affecting incarcerations, employment, and social rights, we also have a similar binary approach towards our interpersonal connections, or what some call a “Tinderization of Feelings” where mechanized decision-making is turning us into binary thinkers who can bypass underlying questions and emotions and go with what is quickly best in that moment.
This binary approach leads to the percentage of young adults reporting themselves as living single and alone rising from an already large jump in 2014 of 64% to 75%.
Around the same time we begin to see major universities reassess their criteria for acceptance, as an incoming generation is showing a lower capacity for certain types of communication and empathy, with acceptance rates dropping 15%.
(climate change) 147 to 216 million people are living on land that will be below sea level or regular flood levels by the end of the century, if carbon emissions continue in their current trend. Nowadays Antarctica is losing around 159 billion tonnes of ice each year. 64 million people in China, specially in Shanghai, are living in areas submerged by rising seas. Countries such as India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, the US, Egypt, Philippines, Brazil, Thailand, the Netherlands and many islands are considered extremely vulnerable areas.
The sea level rise is about to reach 5 meters, and with no adapted infrastructure to protect vulnerable people, the world is about to face the next Great Migration.
ENOUGH car companies are going bankrupt due to a combination of not meeting the emission standards and a cultural shift in the companies people support.acceptance rates dropping 15%.

2022-2023 hope
(climate change) But the night is darkest just before the dawn. (pause) And I promise you, (pause) the dawn is coming.
The automotive industry begins taking strides towards change. Toyota, Nissan and Chevy have moved to exclusively manufactured EV + hybrid cars. Their cost is less and their perform is better than their gasoline counterparts.
EV mobility depends upon the build-out of a network of charging stations. Drivers want to be able to not only charge at homes, but also on the roads, quickly and conveniently. That’s why car companies are starting to negotiate with governments in cities like San Francisco, New York, Copenhagen, Tokyo to build serious infrastructure for EV by 2025.
(data) Businesses and governments that do not make their decision making algorithms public are boycotted.  Programmers, data scientists and machine learning experts become essential for determining the trustworthiness of companies.  Data brokers are required to identify themselves and their collection practices in a centralized system.
International agreements are being signed to define and regulate the use of AI decisions.
(AI) Law and governments as always are still catching up to technological advances, so most of the agreements are being signed by private organizations and individuals. The agreements include:
  • Very specific definition what AI is
  • What purposes it is being developed for
  • Who is responsible for the development outcomes
(connection) This movement towards more well crafted and intentional uses of our technology is also displayed in the design of our communications technologies. Through well honed UX design and advances in machine learning and emotion recognition, a series of small start-ups create successful products that redesign how messaging, notifications, and alerts work, as well as how technology responds to us, with it knowing when it should get out of our way, creating a small cultural shift in the product market.
With these independent projects gaining ground in the public sphere, and changing the consumers’ expectation of how tech should be used more intentionally, the major players at Apple and Google follow suit, releasing products and operating systems that are designed to be more ubiquitous and add a deeper level of presence in our lives.

2024-2025 determination
But… Failure will never overtake us if our determination to succeed is strongENOUGH. Right?
(climate change) The large data centers are now designed to be a much energy efficient as possible.
Copenhagen has full infrastructure to support the use of EVs. Denmark’s policy to create a tax differential between zero emission vehicles and traditional cars had great results. This is just the first of many governmental incentives encourage public and private investment in electric vehicles and infrastructure.
(data) The regulations called for in the “Civil Rights Principles for The Era of Big Data” are fully implemented and enforced across private and public sectors, protecting consumer’s privacy and freedom, ensuring their right to control their information and to correct inaccurate data, and guarding against profiling and discrimination in automated decision making.
(AI) More and more AI and Robotics researchers and developers join the movement and sign the international agreements of what AI should be developed for. Most of the AI developers are being bought by large corporations like Google, Apple, Facebook, which are easy to regulate. The purpose of AI development goes back to solving global issues and augmenting the human, not eliminating them all together.
(connection) Similarly it becomes the industry standard to design products and technologies to be used more intentionally and enhance the foundations of human conversation and understanding, creating a new tech revolution and boom.
Through this we see a cultural shift in the importance we put on the level of connection we have with ourselves and others.

But, we are here right now.
We are young in terms of what these technologies mean to us as a society and as individuals.
How we choose to utilize, design, and understand the technologies of the next decade will have large implications for us as a global community.
The question is: will we step up when we need to?

© rutakru. All rights reserved.