Drones, Robots, and Flying Cars: User Security and Privacy Concerns Center-Stage at Dublin’s Web Summit
By Lauren Bates, Senior Account Manager at Six Spoke
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend the Web Summit, the top technology event in Europe. For three days, over 22,000 attendees descended upon Dublin, Ireland, for the mega conference. Leaders from the world’s most innovative technology companies spoke on hot topics such as artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, and space travel.
Only a week before the Summit, a computer became the first to pass the Turing test, a test of a machine’s ability to display behavior that is indistinguishable from that of humans. Regarding this ominous accomplishment, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, warned us that we are at the “risk of something seriously dangerous happening” in the next five years. Additionally that very week, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial spaceship exploded during a test flight. These events set the tone for the conference and much conversation circled around whether we are allowing technology to advance beyond our capacity to control it.
At the conference, a drone company called Airware shared their commercial drone technology, highlighting its usage for improving sectors such as agriculture, fuel exploration, surveying and mapping, and wildlife conservation. Attendees speculated that five years from now our skies will be littered with drones, and many questioned how we would possibly regulate the devices. Couldn’t bad people use drones to do bad things? Surely, they could.
Another company called UrtheCast demoed the world’s first Ultra HD video feed of Earth, streamed from space in full color. With cameras installed on the International Space Station, UrtheCast documents activity on Earth from a bird’s eye view and sells and distributes the footage to customers.
UrtheCast’s cameras are working towards social good, allowing us to monitor deforestation in the Amazon, animal poaching in the Sahara, and climate changes in the poles. Yet, UrtheCast will also allow you to film your own social events, from your five-hour backyard wedding to your son’s soccer game on his high school’s field. Again, this brought up familiar security and privacy concerns. How would UrtheCast ensure this information wasn’t used in the wrong way?
With ever-advancing technology, the Jetson’s life of flying cars and family robots doesn’t seem that far off. Disruptive technologies are about improving the lives and productivity of people, but we’re entering uncharted waters with no real regulatory legal precedents. Should we take heed of Musk’s warnings and worry that technology is getting too far ahead of our ability to control it?
The always controversial Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and Palantir, who was also a keynote speaker at the conference, argued that our concerns are misplaced. “We live in an anti-technology culture,” he said, when interviewed by British journalist Caroline Daniel at the Web Summit.
Thiel criticized the media for continuing to set the tone that technology is “too dangerous, too noisy, too risky.” He also criticized Hollywood for continuing to produce terrifying Terminator-esque films that never show the positives of pushing technology to new heights.
Concerns around technology infringing on user security and privacy are not new controversies. In fact, the ad tech world has suffered similar scrutiny over the last few years, and the conversation always seems to revolve around limiting technology in order to protect users.
Thiel suggests that we should instead spend more time, energy, and money to try to figure out if “technology can get us more security with less information.” In other words, let’s build technology that limits your need or ability to infringe on people’s privacy instead of regulating innovative technology to a disabling degree in order to protect people’s rights. With technology like drones, regulations governing privacy could be hard-coded into their behavior.
Perhaps this type of technology will be the ultimate solution to what seems to be a never-ending debate regarding technological advances and individual’s privacy. My guess is that the person who cracks the code will be the next billionaire tech entrepreneur to grace the stages of the Web Summit.
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