Stop, for a moment, and consider your smartphone. Truly a technological wonder, it has swallowed up or driven nearly to obsolescence landlines and phone booths, fax machines, standalone GPS devices, cameras, clocks, kitchen timers, stopwatches, pedometers, calculators, CD players, cookbooks, scrabble boards and much more. As microprocessors become smaller and faster, and entrepreneurs pursue riches, new applications will emerge to simplify, stratify, speed and realign our priorities, needs and sensibilities.
The cultural impact is beyond measurement, as are the effects on our jobs, health care, education, safety, communication and our personal lives. These amazing devices, and the many technologies they have spawned, deliver the world to us instantly, expanding our horizons and changing how we see, play, gather and share information.
The first Industrial Revolution used steam and water to mechanize production. The second, the Technological Revolution, offered standardization and industrialization. The third capitalized on electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a fourth Industrial Revolution, our modern Digital Age, is building on the third; expanding exponentially, it is disrupting and transforming our lives, while evolving too fast for governance, ethics and management to keep pace.
Most high school graduates have been exposed to information technology through personal computers, word processing software and their phones. Nonetheless, the digital divide separates the tech savvy from the tech illiterate, driven by disparities in access to technology for pre-K to 12 students based on where they live and socioeconomic realities.
Among the 37 countries participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we trail many in computer science training, and Connecticut ranks near the bottom of the United States in computer science spending for K-12 students.
But the U.S. remains a strong economic magnet and innovation hub for the world. That will continue as long as we allow foreign talent to immigrate here, and the private sector embraces emerging technologies. We need not worry about short-term challenges like devising faster, more exciting devices and services; no, the real challenge will be ensuring that these creations are deployed and made available morally and ethically, accompanied by an effective legal and regulatory framework.
In Europe, still scarred from World War II and fascism, governments work to protect confidentiality, limit the gathering and potential misuse of personal information and regulate tools that might be used to deceive, manipulate or control. Here in the United States, we seem less concerned with the ethical implications of data gathering and manipulation.
Look no further than the 2020 U.S. presidential election to understand the implications and influence of social media, distortions, false facts and misrepresentation. Lies and partial truths, distorted and fed instantly to millions of voters, resulted in chaos, insurrection and the undermining of our democracy. And those seeds, now planted, continue to flourish as do the technologies and farmers that fertilize them.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We can prepare the next generations to use data and emerging tools for good, to protect our planet and to service mankind.
At Sacred Heart University, we understand how these technologies are changing our world and have adjusted our strategic planning to capture new economic growth. We also are equipping students to understand and embrace the ethics, moral foundations and social responsibilities that go with leadership.
We examine what can go wrong when power and influence are wielded unscrupulously or without proper vetting, transparency and governance. By revamping our curricula to focus on analytics, ethics and privacy issues across multiple business, economic, professional and social disciplines, we simultaneously train students to think and act like entrepreneurs.
Data, machine learning and AI are reconstructing the world every millisecond — we can’t be caught like deer in the headlights. We must deal with the continued spread of information, wide-ranging socioeconomic disparities, the need for constant retraining and lagging regulatory frameworks.
Laws rarely keep up with change. But we can learn from history and our mistakes and use tools like AI, equipped with a multitude of facts, to run multiple simulations and create models that determine risks and consequences. Then we can construct proactive regulations and manage against potential worst-case scenarios.
The proverbial genie is out of the bottle, and nothing is going to slow it. We must impose rules, teach our children ethical considerations, dissuade those who would manipulate these tools for nefarious purposes and ensure that data is managed ethically, morally and constructively.
Martha Crawford is dean of the Jack Welch College of Business and Technology at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.