The rapid development of technology within the Fourth Industrial Revolution is both unprecedented and thrilling. Advancements in the Internet of Things, Facial Recognition technology, virtual currencies built on the BlockChain present myriad opportunities for societies to change the way they do things for the better.
But these advanced technologies also present many challenges, particularly when it comes to regulation and governance. For example, in the USA last year, Detroit resident Robert Williams was incorrectly identified by facial recognition technologies for a crime he didn’t commit, and duly arrested. In October 2019, the City of Johannesburg was attacked by hackers, with a Bitcoin ransom demanded for the release of sensitive data that had been encrypted and which was being held captive by the attackers.
According to a recent whitepaper generated by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte, these kinds of challenges can be overcome through a mix of public-private partnerships and agile, ethical governance
Keeping humanity at the centre
It starts not only with good governance practices, but by bearing in mind that the reason technology exists is for the betterment of humanity as a whole. Drones can be used to deliver medicine, self-driving cars to transport COVID tests and samples, while blockchain technology can be used to deliver ever-more efficient services to citizens.
By setting humanity at the heart of what we seek to achieve, developers and technologists can ensure from the outset that smart systems are designed with humans in mind, and with ethical principles built into their very foundation.
For example, it is critical to ensure that new forms of technology – particularly when it comes to the Internet of Things – have the highest-grade built-in security features that are designed to prevent data breaches and discourage hacking. When it comes to health and financial data being shared across borders, governments need to have clear use-cases and be governed by the highest ethics around sensitive data sharing. Legislation like GDPR in Europe and POPIA in South Africa are in place to achieve this, but these took years to develop and be finalised.
What is required of government?
This means the public sector needs to be agile and have responsive regulations that can address these breaches and challenges as they occur. The traditional and canonical way of law-making and the pace at which it happens isn’t responsive enough for the 4IR, at least when it comes to creating legislation that governs technology.
Ideally, such laws would need to be developed as rapidly as the technology that they are meant to address. Fortunately, such agility is possible, and will not only ensure good governance, but lead to a more rapid digitisation across our society.
While there are many challenges when it comes to the development of smart technologies, these hurdles can be overcome to create a better, smarter society for all. Vulnerabilities in the function and design of smart technologies must be kept in mind as tech companies work towards creating a smarter and more accessible world.
It is possible, and it starts with us.