Star Trek or Mad Max? Why What Happens in the Future Is Up to Us

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Is humanity headed toward a Star Trek-like utopia or a Mad Max-inspired dystopia?

This is one of the big questions Vivek Wadhwa examines in his new book, co-authored with Alex Salkever, The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.

In the book, Wadhwa and Salkever explore to what extent we can control technological progress, which at times, can seem like force of nature.

While it’s tempting to believe technology is beyond influence, however, Wadhwa emphasizes people ultimately hold the power to determine our future.

Utopia or dystopia? It’s up to us.

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that. How do we make good decisions?

Wadhwa uses three questions as an ethical lens for evaluating new technologies. Each question relates back to the themes of equality, risk, and autonomy.

  1. Does the technology have the potential to benefit everyone equally?
  2. What are the risks and rewards?
  3. Does the technology more strongly promote autonomy or dependence?

Knowing the ethical nuances aren’t always black and white, Wadhwa believes these questions are a helpful framework for understanding and evaluating technology.

In the book, Wadhwa runs technologies such as artificial intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and robotics through this framework. In the case of artificial intelligence, for example, Wadhwa suggests all AI systems should be built with a kill switch, allowing humans to shut them down, no matter how advanced.

“With both AI and robotics, we must design all systems with this key consideration in mind, even if it reduces the capabilities and emergent properties of those systems and robots.”

Wadhwa urges readers to engage in the ethical debates of our time that technology is surfacing, and stresses that technology is evolving too rapidly to leave policy decisions up to political leaders alone.

What’s the key to making change in the tech sector?

Wadhwa believes it’s the power of the masses—that collective citizen power should also be used to influence the very design of certain technologies.

Though at times a skeptic, Wadhwa ends the book optimistically, writing, “Despite my fears, I know that humanity will rise to the occasion and uplift itself because it always has.”

The Driver in the Driverless Car calls for readers to become more informed and engaged with emerging technologies. It’s a reminder that we all play a role in deciding whether technology creates a future Captain Picard would applaud.

Listen to the interview below:

Image source: Shutterstock

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Alison tells the stories of purpose-driven leaders and is fascinated by various intersections of technology and society. When not keeping a finger on the pulse of all things Singularity University, you'll likely find Alison in the woods sipping coffee and reading philosophy (new book recommendations are welcome).

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