The pros and cons of technology in society: An unflinching look at both sides of the story

By Jasmine Henry

Three women smiling and looking at each other's mobile phones

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As the global mobility landscape continues to evolve and expand, it’s important to reflect on both the pros and cons of technology in society. In 2018, researchers at Zenith predict 66 percent of consumers in 52 key countries worldwide will own a smartphone. Simultaneously, IDC projects enterprise mobility spending worldwide will top $1.6 trillion this year.

The pros and cons of technology: A few highlights

Clearly, there’s unstoppable momentum behind mobile innovation. Understanding the advantages of technology as well as the negative ways it affects society and culture can enable important conversations about inclusiveness and tech justice. While the following list is a far from an exhaustive look at the pros and cons of technology and society, they are a few examples worth considering:

Pro: Better healthcare quality, outcomes and costs

Globally, there are a growing number of examples of how the advantages of technology and mobility can improve healthcare quality, outcomes and costs. AI is increasingly promising in the treatment of several disorders, and wearable mobile devices can keep patients more engaged in physical therapy treatments or the management of chronic conditions.

According to the magazine Good, Mobile hotspot technology is helping reduce preventable maternal patient deaths in Morocco. With portable ultrasound equipment and a 3G network, a care network has reduced the average time patients wait to receive a medical opinion from two weeks to fewer than 24 hours. It also lowered costs 98 percent.

Con: A lack of AI ethics

Many tech experts openly worry about AI ethics. A 2017 open letter from robotics and AI researchers and well-known individuals such as Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking urged the United Nations to take action against the development of autonomous weapons that required no human intervention.

Even if their objective is just a conversational interface, the enterprise is advised to avoid stumbling over ethics on the road to AI advantage. Watson CTO Rob High told Forbes that transparency is key to keeping AI ethical. Make sure your users know they’re interacting with an AI chatbot. And use technology to present options and proof while ensuring that humans make the ultimate decisions on how to use that data.

Pro: Safer employment

It’s hard to say for sure whether technology has actually made people more productive. However, it has definitely changed the structure of the labor market.

For many US workers, the shift in employment caused by technology has resulted in better workplace safety. Over the past 30 years, there’s been a drastic shift in the labor market away from employment in occupations such as agriculture and manufacturing and toward knowledge- and services-based jobs — a concept Bloomberg calls the service economy.

Con: Technology-based vulnerabilities

McAfee estimates that in 2017, cybercrime was a $600 billion industry. While some hackers are motivated by pride or politics, the vast majority of cybercriminals view their work as a lucrative gig. Last year, according to Ponemon, the average global data breach cost $3.62 million.

Current cybersecurity trends are not a light topic, and the relationship between technology and crime isn’t simple. Tech isn’t the root cause of cybercrime — it’s just the venue. In a landscape where threats are constantly evolving, today’s enterprises and individuals must work constantly to understand how their technology makes them vulnerable.

Pro: Social progress

Mobility is already helping the 1.1 billion individuals worldwide without identification to achieve a digital identity. In a keynote at Mobile World Congress 2018, Fenix International CTO Jit Bhattacharya explained how his solar electricity organization offers a unique pay-you-go approach to cashless mobile African households. The program offers clean power as well as digital identity, credit history and loan opportunities for children’s education.

Con: Lagging leadership and public governance

After studying attitudes toward the pros and cons of technology in society among thousands of British citizens, Doteveryone researchers recently recommended training public leaders in digital understanding and creating independent regulation and accountability frameworks “so people know who to turn to when things go wrong.”

While 50 percent of individuals surveyed by the study feel that technology has improved their individual lives, only 12 percent feel that it’s impacted society very positively. From a widespread misunderstanding of how data is collected and used to a lack of transparency over how online products and services operate, it’s clear that public governance has some catching up to do to keep the general population feeling better informed and more empowered in an increasingly connected world.

Pro: Reduced business risks

AI is highly effective at identifying unusual patterns associated with financial fraud or cybercrime based on real-time streaming data. AI apps and services can augment human decision-making around risk criteria in business setting. Last year, 68 percent of banking industry executives told Aite that machine-learning tools that detect fraud were a key area of investment for 2018.

Con: Cognitive and social development risks

Behavioral researchers have long known that technology has an impact on the cognitive and social development of digital natives. While not all of these impacts are wholly negative and certainly aren’t simple, there is research that demonstrates concerning impact such as one recent Nature Communications study on the brain development effects of cyberbullying during teen years.

While it’s undeniable that technology has altered the course of human life, it’s important to reflect on the ways innovation impacts society and to maximize the potential of tech for positive change. Fortunately, while there are definitive drawbacks, many of the advantages of technology are creating a better world for all.

Written By

Jasmine Henry

Jasmine E. Henry, MS

Jasmine is a commentator on emerging technology and freelance writer in the greater Seattle area. With a professional background in analytics, big data, mobility, and security that spans both the for-profit and government sectors, her professional interests include artificial intelligence…

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