Technology: Impacts, Challenges and the Future

Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), UAE organized its 19th Annual Conference titled Technology: Impacts, Challenges and the Future on March 18-19 2014.

It was staged under the patronage of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and President of ECSSR.

Technology Utility and Challenges

The effects of technological change in the spheres of politics, governance and leadership, and the related repercussions for defense, security and law enforcement were also analyzed during the Conference. It considered specific challenges posed by technology in the areas of education, media, and culture. The Conference also evaluated current and future applications of technology in the field of sustainable development, assessing technological contributions to economics, business, human resources development and trade.

Technological Impacts

The different speakers addressed the possible impacts of future technological developments in various fields and the challenges facing their implementation. The said conference was focused on the potential benefits and risks they may bring for a globalized world.

Dr “Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi’s Welcome Address

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Dr “Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi”, Director General of the (ECSSR) presented welcome address in the opening session of the conference. He said that technological progress has led to qualitative leaps forward in all areas of life, accompanied by radical changes in thinking and it is the main tool for globalization.

Importance of Good Planning

“We believe that a good planning will allow us to use the technology as a tool to achieve our aims and overcome the challenges that may be experienced by other societies he added.

Combination of HRM and Technological Development

He said all individuals, institutions and decision makers need to work closely to exchange their ideas in order to reach a development plan that can maximise the use of human resources and technological advancements in the best possible manner.

Royal Highness Princess “Rym Al Ali’s Key Note

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It was followed by the keynote speech by her Royal Highness Princess “Rym Al Ali” the founder of “Jordan Media Institute” in the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”. She spoke highly about the research book titled From Tribe to Facebook: The Transformational Role of Social Networks written by H.E. Dr. Jamal Sand Al-Suwaidi. She elaborated the role of media technology in the regional countries. She pinpointed many impacts of emerging media in terms of knowledge societies in the region. She quoted American entrepreneur and TV producer Frederick Siebert‘s six stages of the technological phenomenon.

Different Media Scenarios

“It seems some countries are in the middle of the phase with increased government control while other are struggling to preserve the value of this new and improved channel of communication; all still far from the level of balance” she further added.

Importance and effects of the media outlets and communications platforms

She highlighted the importance and effects of the media outlets and communications platforms these days. She had serious reservations about quality of these tools of persuasion and communications. She talked about electronic media, social media and importance of message and news.

Media as an effective tool

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“At the end of the day media is a tool we are dealing with the full effects of which are still unclear. We are not victims or passive users. We have largely become passive users of this tool and each of us use information that travel through the Internet in different ways” she explained.


Social Media in the Middle East

She said that in the Middle East social media has produced a parallel world. The subject whether they have triggered uprising has been overanalyzed, and in my opinion, exaggerated. There is a limit to what technology can do. There is still need for more dialogue. The influence of the media should be harnessed for this purpose.

Question of Privacy

She raised the question of privacy. Snooping with the personal information and lives of the customers should not be encouraged. According to her it might disturb societal fabrics and culture of tolerance in the world.


Window of Opportunity and Censorship

She pinpointed that there must be balance between a booming environment and censorship. There is also an overabundance of information, which has led to questionable quality. The Snowden saga and Mark Zuckerburg’s recent statement states, that trust is critical in this day and age, she elaborated.

Invention of Internet

She talked about the invention of internet and tried to compare its advantages and disadvantages. She admitted the importance of journalism and role of the professional journalists. Lack of trust of the Arabian media outlets are one of the main reasons of its trust deficits. She stressed the need to have transparent social system.

Role of Professional Journalists

She said professional journalists who specialize in subjects can help us make sense of the thousands of pieces of information that we access every day. We need journalists that are better trained and are trained more regularly. For media people the trend has been to react and adapt. They need to be one step ahead and reach the level of required social balance.

This was followed by four separate panels that discussed the regional and global impacts of current and potential technological advances against a backdrop of growing global interconnectedness and globalization.

Day One: Responsibility and Values

The first panel of the conference mainly discussed the responsibility and values of using technology rather than technology itself. While the speakers highlighted the growing role of technology, they called upon governments, institutions, parents and society in general to encourage responsible thinking toward using technology as a tool.

Panel Chair

The panel chair Mohamed Nasser Al Ghanim, director-general of Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), UAE, explained the country’s leadership’s focus in creating smart cities that are more people-centric. Mohamed Ghanim said the UAE intends to add services never seen or heard of before because of the country’s aims of using the various innovations in technology.

Smart Government and Smart

“We have started to engage in Smart Government and Smart Cities at the same time,” said Mr Al Ghanim. He rated it as the most important challenge that involves cooperation and responsibility between all the institutions involved. He said “we need to create efficiency to transfer existing processes to become smart. We need to tailor the approach to those who are using the technology the citizens. We need to work with hundreds of agencies and prioritize the goal in question. This is not a government centric issue, but it is about what the user wants, and what the people who live in our cities want, he added.

Challenge of Marketing

“We then face another challenge in marketing these services and how we engage citizens to use these services. We could create the most forward-looking services there are, but can the customer adapt? This is another major challenge. It will take a lot of training and the leadership must focus on individuals,” he said.

Statistical Data

During the first day it was said that by 2020 there would be some 30 billion devices connected to the internet worldwide, including items such as clothing and household appliances, despite a projected population of only 9 billion people. The speakers and researchers told that the impact of this mass connectivity to the online world will have far reaching consequences.

Professor Philip Howard from the University of Washington, USA said “for the last 5 years and in particular during the Arab Spring, mobile phones are a big part of the story.”

“I put it to you that we are about to have a very different internet an internet of things, of multiple connected devices.

Role of Smartphones

“Today, some 75 billion apps have been downloaded for smartphones so far, and there are some two billion smartphones out there. If the average phone has 38 apps on it, and the apps ping a server three times a day, the network generates 226 billion location points,” he added.

These location points shows where a specific phone or connect device is being used, and produce huge amount of data about what it is being used for.


Role of new innovations

Professor Linnar Viik, Former Director of Skype Technologies Ltd and Associate Professor and Member of the Board, Estonian Information Technology College, Estonia, said that innovation can emerge from new technologies and non-technological knowledge. He said that non-technological innovations are closely related to the knowhow, skills and working conditions that are embedded in organisations.

Although substantial gains can be obtained by improving institutions, building infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability, or improving human capital, all these factors eventually run into “diminishing returns.”

Development of information technology and Perspectives
“We have reached a point in the development of information technology where our perspectives of our current position and our future prospects are both too small and too large. We have a right to be interested in both aspects of the technology because our current position should tell us whether we are using the technology profitably and our vision of the future should help us prepare ourselves and our society for the next generation,” said Professor David Alan Grier, Associate Professor of International Science and Technology Policy and International Affairs, The George Washington University, US.

When looking to the future, he said that people are blinded by their own hope that this technology will make us wealthy and more powerful.

“We are eager for this technology to provide us with innovation. But the word innovation is not merely a synonym for invention but also involves a radical social change that cannot always be controlled,” he said.

The information technology has automated major tasks in all of the “seven classic categories” of social activity production, commerce, finance, security, accounting, management and politics.

Grier said the tasks that remain are often more complex and engage social structures in more complicated ways.

2nd Day

Prof Alfonso Gambardella from Bocconi University in Italy said “the problem with ideas is that many are worth nothing, but very few are worth a fortune”.

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Winning Ideas

“We do not know which are the winning ideas, so we have to try many before we find the ones that will be successful,” he said.

Prof Gambardella said that large companies must invest in new ideas when it comes to technology, as often the person with the blueprint of an innovative idea cannot finance the project themselves.

“In the division of labour there is room for investors, producers of ideas and the buyers of ideas. The division of labour is not something that enables some companies and not others, because it is a division it enables many parties to do many things.”

Smarter Technology

Martin Ford, president of Acculant Technology in the US, said that as technology gets smarter, machines could soon replicate the repeatable tasks of many human workers.

“If you look at the workers out there, millions of them, for the most part, are doing jobs that on some level are routine and predictable,” he said.
Problem of data management

“As more is captured in data, these types of tasks will be subject to machine learning and in essence they will figure out how to do these predictable tasks. Enormous amounts of data are gathered and as this increases it will become a rich data set, and this puts a lot of jobs at risk.”

Mr Ford highlighted the example of General Motors, which at the peak of its production, in 1979, employed about 840,000 workers, with earnings of US$11 billion (Dh40.4bn).

He compared this with Google, which in 2012 employed just 38,000 people and had earnings of $14bn, using less than 5 per cent of the staff.

Another keynote speaker was Prof James Fleming, from Columbia University in the US. He offered his thoughts on using technology in harmony with the planet’s ecosystem, and ensuring sustainability. “We need to move our technology away from conflict,” he said.

“We need to, in a way, not predict specifics, but find our comfort level of living with technology and with the planet. We will never stop living with technology but we also cannot live without the ecosystem around us.”

Other topics covered on the final day of the event in Abu Dhabi included the challenges presented to governments as the threat of cyber-attacks increases.

Prof Lisa Nelson, from the University of Pittsburgh in the US, highlighted the continuing problem for politicians attempting to tackle threats from individuals or foreign governments.

Prof Nayef Al Rodhan, from the University of Oxford in the UK, explored the changing face of technology and its relationship with ethics and biology.

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He offered insights into how technology was increasingly being used to enhance us physiologically, and that in the future, boundaries would be tested when it came to ethics and governance.

Main Message

The ECSSR conference concluded with the message that companies in the UAE need to take more risks and invest in innovative ideas and technologies. During the conference the ECSSR called on companies to increase their support for innovators. The question of privacy, innovation, big data management, eco-system and the last but not the least dawn of smart era was the main areas of discussion during the two international conference at ECSSR, the jewel of genuine research providing philosophical answers and practical solutions to all the policy makers, businessmen, economists, scholars and above all rulers.

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