By Mark Richards.
We wrote a lot about tech last year. In the year that brought us the General Data Protection Regulations (more of that later), it was impossible not to. But what might happen in 2019? We take a look at some predictions for the year ahead – with the most terrifying saved until the end…
No subject I wrote about last year made a more lasting impression on me than China’s determination to see every person in the country with a ‘social credit score’ by the year 2020. As a vision of the future – and a compliant, docile population controlled by the fear of not being able to use the latest dating app – I found it frightening.
So what does 2019 hold in store for us? We have thrown away the hopelessly outdated crystal ball and instead asked our artificial intelligence virtual assistant to tell us what we can expect over the next 12 months.
Let us start with the good news…
We should all be healthier
In theory, we should all become healthier as the tech advances and more and more devices – our Fitbits and our Apple Watches – collect our data and give us the opportunity to act upon it. Throw in genetic testing and AI-powered computers which are getting better at analysis and diagnosis and we should all be fitter and healthier.
“In 2019, for the first time ever, there will be more health data available outside health systems than inside them,” says Othman Laraki, CEO of a San Francisco based genetic testing company.
But the operative words are ‘in theory.’ Do we want to know the information, and would we act on it? Right now it is a subjective decision (do I want to know if I am more likely to develop cancer? I am not sure I do…) Even then, we need to decide whether to act on the information or not – so I suspect that by the end of the year there will still be plenty of stories about the UK getting more and more unhealthy as the government continues to threaten us with the sugar tax, the pudding tax and what next? A meat tax?
…And we will take back control
The experts say that we will take back control of our data in 2019. In the best spirits of panto season, I say, ‘Oh no we won’t.’
Last May brought us the General Data Protection Regulation and – whatever happens with Brexit – the UK has said that it will keep GDPR in place. So do I feel that my data is now better protected? No. Do I feel that I have to waste time clicking ‘accept’ before I look at any website? Yes.
I suspect that I am the rule rather than the exception, but the experts insist that 2019 will be the year swinging fines are imposed under GDPR and that we will all start to control our data. Well, a few people with plenty of time might do that: the rest of us will continue to simply click ‘accept’ and recognise that we are paying for the internet with data about our health, finances, and our social and lifestyles choices.
So more data will be collected than ever before, and AI will analyse it: as above, that has an enormous potential for good. Unfortunately, the technology pendulum might also swing the other way…
Deepfakes could spark a war
If you have not yet heard the word ‘deepfake’ you will. What is it? A manipulated digital image that overlays one person’s face onto a different body or that changes what people actually say. Most of the headlines around deepfakes have so far centred on ‘revenge porn’ but there are far broader implications than that.
Katja Bego, a data scientist at innovation foundation, Nesta, predicts that “2019 will be the year when a malicious ‘deepfake’ video sparks an international incident.” She added, “Although deepfakes are a relatively new technology there are evolving incredibly quickly, making it harder and harder for the naked eye to spot them.”
We saw last year that the China news agency introduced the first AI newsreader – and no, he was not perfect, but give the technology two years…
Artificial intelligence will cause a major company to fail
Two years ago we were writing about the NotPetya ransomware attack, which caused millions of pounds worth of damage to countries and companies around the world. Two years on and you can be sure that viruses, ransomware and the AI behind them are more sophisticated and more dangerous. So much so that security firm Gemalto is predicting that “an AI orchestrated attack will take down a FT-SE 100 company.” This will apparently see a new generation of malware infect an organisation’s systems, gather information (presumably on customers and products) and then let loose a series of attacks that will ‘take down the company from the inside out.’
How will companies counter these AI attacks? With AI of their own. We are heading towards a world where it will not be man vs. machine, but machine vs. machine.
OK: time to head into the dystopia…
To end your Monday morning on a thoroughly depressing note, let us go deeper into the dystopia. That is the opposite of a utopia: an imagined place or state where everything is bad and – very probably – getting worse. They may not happen in 2019 but sooner or later we could be faced with one – or all – of these doomsday scenarios…
Terrorists will be able to create a global pandemic.
A few years ago the US Department of Health published the full genome for the 1918 influenza virus, which killed more people than the First World War. The journal Nature published an article explaining how bird flu could be mutated into something far more deadly for humans.
Robots will kill us.
It is not the sort of thing that they make public but governments around the world are working on LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons). These are weapons and machines that will do the fighting for us – and make their own decisions. Supposing their data gets corrupted? Supposing the AI develops and they are able to make decisions we do not like? Supposing they get hacked? The Center for Bioethics at Yale University believes LAWS will become essential for the security of first world countries – but that the ethical dangers they pose mean they should be banned.
The satellites will fail.
Without satellites, our ability to communicate would be drastically reduced. But satellites are vulnerable to a solar system, wars being fought in space or simply just crashing into each other because there is so much space junk up there. No satellites mean no GPS and no Satnav: we would have to go back to winding the window down and asking someone for directions. Now there is a truly terrifying vision of the future…