Last month 6GWorld collaborated with Tech With Soul to bring together people from the telecoms and AI world with experts from a wide variety of different backgrounds – parenting and work gurus, rap stars, a social media expert, a sexuality therapist and many others – to talk about the direction and impact of technology. What are they thinking of as they try to navigate change through the 2020s and into the 6G era?
The conversations were, unsurprisingly, very unlike anything telecoms folks manage when talking among themselves and are a fertile ground for developing strategies and services which will resonate with what people actively want, fear or need… as well as helping us navigate the changes facing us all in our lives today.
You can access the full set of video interviews here for free, but here are a few of the quotes and ideas to give you a flavour. While the conversations were divided up by areas such as the Future of Work, Future of Family etc, there were themes that cross-cut through many of the different conversations.
Reality, Digital Reality and Unreality
“You know, Tupac dropped a single the other day. I thought he’d passed away. I thought he was gone.” B-Legit, Hip-Hop Artist & Business Owner.
There are concerns about how we navigate an environment online which is very different from the physical world. In the physical world we understand in many cases what makes something ‘real,’ ‘authentic’ or not. Online provenance is much more difficult for humans to intuitively manage, particularly with the growth of deepfakes and avatars. How do we negotiate this?
“My dad and I were talking about this because I wanted us, as a family, to have a code word to know that it’s really us. I do have a photorealistic avatar twin that is giving a talk tomorrow…. It’s video and audio, so having a code word is very important to protect against a fake facetime or a video, these technologies are present now.” Stacey Engle, Founder, AuthorityLab.
These are obviously concerns, but potentially open up a new line of business. Telecoms providers have the ability to track the identity and location of objects, IP addresses and so on over time, which might help to offer proofs of provenance.
At the same time, provenance and identity are not always the same thing. Rapper Ras Kass gave an example of an AI-powered avatar he has set up.
“It’s me but I gave it its own personality …you can just do those things with your avatar that you don’t want to do any more in real life.” Ras Kass, Rapper & Entrepreneur.
Similarly, speakers referenced the company Twin Protocol, which seeks to build up a picture of individuals’ knowledge base and understanding, which can then work on the individual’s behalf online in an automated fashion.
The past few decades have seen the rise of the gig economy and the attention economy, digital nomadism and more driven by widely available broadband and mobile connections. There is quite possibly a greater wave of change waiting in the wings as culture – and business culture – catches up with the technology.
“So much of our education system and the way we work, like the 9 to 5, is all targeted towards the factory and production and that kind of way of working. That’s all shifting.” Arif Khan, AI Influencer.
The nature of companies could well continue to change over the coming years. Generative AI and other elements are introducing a shake-up thanks to the way it democratises access to capabilitiues as well as information.
“The barrier to entry is reduced, which means that people can start companies and businesses, they can get going a lot quicker without relying on maybe niche experts that they would have needed to before. I think that’s an exciting space.” Bill Inman, Entrepreneur & Strategic Advisor, Sophiaverse.
Inman noted that Instagram was set up by a handful of people in a couple of weeks, highlighting how the next powerhouse application or service could come from anywhere as barriers lower. Indeed, this is already happening to a certain extent.
“As an older woman dealing with ageism… it has saved my career because I’ve been able to use AI to build and keep my music career, keep my businesses going outside of music booking.” Suga-T, Rapper, Entrepreneur & Educator.
While the internet gave people access to huge amounts of information, which changed the nature of many jobs in itself, the growth of AI allows for better filtering and an understanding of context in real time. That is likely to filter through not only into types of job but even the structure of companies.
“What you really want is people to lead when it’s most appropriate… Technology can be almost like a superpower that can help people to better understand context, to be able to learn new skills more rapidly, to be able to determine in any particular situation who among a team of people should be the one that is taking the lead.” Gary Bolles, Future of Work Chair at Singularity University
The implications of this are considerable, in terms of the skills and knowledge base desirable in people coming through into the workforce. While there are some things that could well become less relevant, other aspects – which are perhaps harder to teach – are likely to grow in significance.
“AI can’t really help us determine whether something is truthful or not or right from wrong… That is something we’re going to have to instil in our children, being able to look at information objectively and try and make a decision on it. What does the education system look like? I think things that do come out, like empathy, being able to understand the human experience, being able to talk to people and creativity, those are the things that seem like they’ll still be around.” Bill Inman.
The Moral Imperative
Determining right from wrong is not only a challenge for AI itself, but for all of us. If we are looking ahead at a much more integrated existence between the physical and digital worlds, what does that imply for how we live and the kinds of tools we build to help us navigate this combined environment? For a start, we are probably looking at forms of interaction that work more instinctively for us as humans – which is good but likely to deepen our personal engagement.
“I have been looking a lot into metaverse and I think that will change social media a lot because it’s more like real interaction; especially when people can use glasses and everything, it’s going to be a very different interaction. I feel like we’re in the beginning stage of this and it’s going to really develop in the next coming years.” Myla Tkatchenko, Web 3.0 Ambassador & Instagram Influencer
It isn’t hard to find scandals and complaints about different ways in which the current online environment can be problematic and dehumanising. When we are dealing with an increased engagement, and quite possibly more immersive engagements, what does that mean? More than appears in balance sheets of financial profit and loss.
“If you are a technologist that is looking to build tools to somehow leverage, to enable, to accentuate, to enhance an aspect of the human experience, you must do so with incredible reverence and incredible integrity. That means thinking through the ethical implications, thinking through the educational implications, thinking through also how you want to monetize somebody else’s personal experience and love life. There was a situation just a few months ago where there were… hundreds of thousands of people fully engaging with chatbots. Then one day they all came online and the bots had been disconnected. That left people grieving as their relationships with the chatbots had ended. That’s an ethical responsibility that you have to think through.” Kaamna Bhojwani, Sexuality Expert & host of KaamnaLive.
Part of the problem, as referenced above, is that AI can provide useful outputs but has no concept of right or wrong, in either the factual or the moral sense. While the EU has released the AI Act recently as the first step in legislating this, there are significant problems insofar as AI technology itself needs updating.
“I’d also come back to the requirement for more advanced kind of artificial intelligence because today’s DNNs [Deep Neural Networks] which drive the vast majority of economic value being generated by AI in the world today simply have no ability whatsoever to be programmed with ethics regulation of any kind whatsoever.” Janet Adams, COO, SingularityNET.
A key challenge for the telecoms and tech industries is that morality and ethical choices vary geographically. We will need to face up to this in the creation of Key Value Indicators, legislative compliance and more.
“For example, what data is published in Finland is quite different from what is made publicly available from other countries; like in our case, our tax records are public, so our annual income is public. Others think that it’s outrageous.” Marja Matinmikko-Blue, Research Director, University of Oulu.
In the meantime, while technology regulation can go a certain way towards helping people to adjust to a more integrated digital-physical world, we should also be looking at other ways to help people navigate what is or isn’t appropriate and helpful for them.
“We’ve already created those kinds of gatekeeper methodologies in different environments. For example, movies have an age-appropriate code.” Ronjini Joshua, CEO, Silver Telegram.
The introduction of age ratings was quite a disjunction when it happened, but it’s something people don’t think twice about now. Age ratings may not be the only way that we manage or gatekeep online, however; with a greater understanding of individual behaviour and tendencies ratings by other factors might also be applied, such as rating gambling sites by psychological factors.
Joshua also pointed out that, in social situations, there are other forms of regulation or gatekeeping through, for example, social or familial approval/disapproval – the ‘would I want Mum to see this?’ approach.
The Family Imperative
The question of what Mum sees – or what passes her by entirely – certainly presents a new level of challenge. Parental relationships and guidance in a more online environment need to be thought out, especially when they are facing technologies which the children are using but which they are unfamiliar with. Parenting strategist Carol Muleta suggests that this is a situation which can be made an opportunity for deepening family engagement and teaching children control over their online environs.
“We really have to be proactive and intentional about how we’re going to use technology. And parents should always have been open to the fact that they don’t know everything and that they can learn with their children.” Carol Muleta, Founder, The Parenting 411.
That said, there is definitely scope for deepening relationships if people – the designers of services, the regulators of the overall environment, and the users – are intentional about it.
“I’m passionate about, for instance, being able to hold on to family memories by having a digital twin of people in your family – like terminal patients who are parents who want to be able to interact with their kids after they pass. There’s amazing application for legacy and really being in service to humanity.” Stacey Engle, CEO, AuthorityLab.
Possibly this is also a way for people to express agency and make themselves felt in a way that we haven’t before.
“A little bit down the road the digital, programmable and physical world will be all mixed in together, meaning everything will have a digital representation, making the physical world more or less fully programmable and automated. What that means is every individual has a platform to really have a say in things so they can express their opinions, their advocacy.” Mimi Tam, Chair, Next G Alliance Societal & Economic Needs Working Group.
Ultimately it is a question of mindfulness.
“I believe there’s always the X factor; that people make the world go around, technologies are tools. Not 6G, not AI, not robots; they’re going to be game-changers but we adapt.” Money-B, Rapper.
The Last Word
“Operators say “Yeah, we know the end users, what we are saying is what they want.” But those people are not there in the room when the discussion happens about the future… So we definitely need to somehow engage with people in new ways.” Marja Matinmikko-Blue, Research Director, University of Oulu.
Alex Lawrence is Managing Editor at 6GWorld. His mission is to bring together stakeholders from across industries, countries and disciplines to make sure that, as technology evolves in the coming decade, it’s meeting the changing demands of society, government and business.
He has been involved as a professional nosy person in the telecoms sphere since 2004, with short detours through industrial O&M and marketing.
If you’d like to talk to Alex about your ideas or projects he’d love to hear from you. @animalawrence or email@example.com.