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7 Awkward Problems Future Tech Will Bring Us

Don't point your cyborg arm at that robot, Tom! It's rude!

“The future is here.”

It doesn’t matter if it has to do with cars, the Internet of Things, 3D printing or technology in general: This cliché suffers from greater abuse than the Congolese children who had to mine the cobalt in your smartphone. If we’re being honest, the future is always out of reach – by definition. And maybe it’s better this way.

Sure, having sci-fi type progress readily available would be pretty awesome. Flying cars, hoverboards, “smellevision,” moon colonies – they all sound great on paper. But you always have to think about the downsides of such futuristic technology. The Internet is cool and all, but we also have to deal with this on a daily basis:

Server rack with loads of cables

But spaghetti syndrome is far from the only problem that comes with the elaborate advancement in technology and science we all crave. Let’s look at eight issues that we wouldn’t have to deal with if it weren’t for this pesky progress, in chronological order of  emergence:

 

Late 2010s: “One virtual reality, please!”

Guy enjoying Virtual Reality

Aside from making people look like dorks, developing virtual reality hard- and software comes with great moral responsibilities. What is allowed within VR? Surely, manufacturers won’t limit gaming companies from making realistic and immersive first person shooters. So killing will be okay. What about torture? GTA V got in trouble for explicitly forcing the player to torture someone to move forward in the game. So it’s likely to happen in VR games as well.

Perhaps even more controversial is sex. VR porn? You can bet on it! VR rape? Why not? Nobody gets hurt, right? VR child abuse? Probably. You can’t really stop people from dreaming up stuff like this. Virtual Reality will put us in a morally ambiguous tough spot and there’s not much we can do about it except perhaps put legal limitations on what’s allowed within the surreal realm of the digital world. Though we all know how well this has worked with the Internet, so let’s not get our hopes up.

 

Early 2020s: “Can you turn up the engine sound, please?”

Tesla Electric Car Charging

We’re already having to deal with this issue. But I don’t think it will enter the mainstream until much later when more people actually own electric cars. In contrast to our old fossil fuel powered automobiles for which we’ve had to erect noise barriers along highways, electric cars are too quiet! #FirstWorldProblems, I know.

People are incredibly careless when it comes to traffic safety. About 4,500 pedestrians are killed each year on public roads in the USA. 70,000 are injured. I don’t even want to know how many more are hurt in driveways and parking lots. And I can only imagine that this will get worse when more and more cars lose their iconic vroom vroom in favor of sustainability since people won’t even hear them coming anymore. Luckily, Japan, the U.S., and the EU all have introduced legislature to force manufacturers to build artificial noise makers into their electric cars to tackle this safety hazard. Even still, pedestrians will have to be more careful in the future either way. Some models only make a sound when they detect an obstacle, and some even enable the driver to turn off the noise at any time.

Look left and right before you cross the road, kids.

 

Late 2020s: “I didn’t hit your car! Google did it!”

So now that you ran over Grandma Gertrud with your quiet electric car, you’ll have to deal with the consequences. Or maybe not. If it wasn’t you at the wheel, but actually your self-driving car who hit the old lady, whose fault would the accident be? If Grandma Gertrud purposefully jumped in front of your windshield, she’s to blame, of course. If you messed with the car in any way, you’re responsible. But in every other case… is the manufacturer at fault?

On Valentine’s Day, a Google autonomous car got into a self-inflicted accident for the first time. You can read a summary of the complicated incident here. What basically happened is that the auto made a wrong prediction of how a bus driver would react in a lane-merging situation and the two of them crashed. We can learn from this that there will always be accidents as long as human drivers are involved, because they add a degree of uncertainty to any setting.

It’s still not entirely worked out who will have to pay for insurance and repairs if something like this happens to a commercial customer. But it’s looking like the manufacturer will in fact be held responsible at the end of the day. Which is fair… but weird. Imagine suing Toyota after you hit another car! Surely, by the late 2020s, this issue will be as common as dirt.

 

Early 2030s: “I’m sorry, Steve. ‘Employ-O-Matic 3000’ will be taking your place in the firm.”

Android / Robot

Robots, androids, and machines are going to replace us in the workplace starting… yesterday. Using this neat little search engine by the BBC, you can find out the likelihood of your job falling victim to automation within the next two decades. But even if you’re at the bottom of the list, you’ll always have to be afraid of Artificial Intelligence. When the time comes that true A.I. sees the light of day, human labor might soon after become obsolete.

Being replaced by technology is a tragic fate. And it’s a huge social issue humanity will have to face eventually. Let’s hope we don’t prove all those sci-fi movies about evil androids right.

 

Late 2030s: “Mr. President, is that you doing a keg stand in this old Facebook photo?”

Social Media Dangers

Us Europeans, we have a right to be forgotten. Theoretically.

But as long as other countries don’t adopt the same legislature to force search engines such as Google to delete unwanted information about individuals, any erasure only applies to the regional version of the service, meaning that people from other continents can still look at those naked pictures your ex uploaded to a shady website to spite you.

If nothing changes, the Internet will soon become every public person’s #1 enemy. Pop stars will be humiliated by old social media posts containing “problematic” statements, judges will be dismissed over incriminating pictures from crazy college parties on their best friend’s Facebook page, and most prominently, politicians will have to explain why they liked so many YouTube videos of people being executed by terrorists.

Things like these have happened in the past, of course. But in twenty years there will barely be a handful of people who have no Internet history whatsoever. And judging by how the media can spin anything to make someone look bad, I’m wondering who they’ll see fit to be president anymore. Is it bad enough if they posted slightly revealing photos of themselves on Instagram when they were younger? Do we want them in the highest office if they liked sexist jokes on Twitter as a teenager? Is it reason enough to impeach someone over a messy argument they had with someone in the comment section of a YouTube video?

You tell me.

 

Early 2040s: “Please don’t take your face off in public.”

Man taking his face off android robot

Being a cyborg sounds pretty cool, but when you get down to it, it’s pretty strange. If you watch “Orphan Black” (which you most definitely should), you know how scary bio-enhancements can be if they were implanted by the wrong people. But even benevolent “upgrades” come with a wide array of unanswered social questions.

This is unchartered territory for most people, so it’s hard to say how society will work when half-machine hybrids are walking among us. From simple things like manners (Can I use my X-ray vision on people if they haven’t agreed to it?) to more complex issues like interaction (Do I let my children play with hybrids?) and fairness (Can a cyborg take part in the Olympics?), this type of technology will be an acid test for humanity. I really hope we’re basic enough to deal with it. #ChemistryHumor

Early 2040s: “I love you, Windows 20.”

Female robot worker

If you’ve seen that movie “Her” or that other movie “Ex Machina” or that other movie “Blade Runner” or that other movie “A.I.” or… you get it. Falling in love or at least having sympathy for artificial intelligence will be inevitable if these films are to be believed. And it makes sense: Humans can cherish their inanimate stuffed animals like real pets, have conversations with their house plants, and even feel bad for robots being kicked over. We’re designed to love.

Having a crush on an operating system, however, is… tricky. Is it socially acceptable to have an affair with your computer? Would it be considered cheating? If the A.I. didn’t agree to it… is it rape? To answer these and many other questions about digital love, the world might want to look at Japan, where men have already started to marry video game characters. That’s already pretty awkward in my book.

 

Male cyborg sitting at a table

What do you think about tech problems of the future? Tell me in the comments below!