Digital Technology has brought definite advantages and disadvantages to the world. By digital technology, here we specifically refer to innovations like social media platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data – the collection, analysis and (mis)use of large sets of data. The technology in this sense poses obvious dangers to all developing countries including Pakistan which have reduced capacity and mechanism to monitor and control its citizens.
Social media is a revolutionary tool as it has given voice to the commoners. However, it is also true that through social media most of the time; we are consuming enemy propaganda rather than seeing ordinary user-generated content. Through such information, our trust in the credibility of national leadership is decreasing. It is a deliberate enemy effort to create unknown fear and anarchic situation.
Why all democracies have a minimum voting age? Well, the answer is simple. Children are not mature, independent or wise enough to make correct political choices – by extending the logic, it means active citizenship depends on citizens being politically mature, independent-thinking and capable of making right judgments. Unfortunately, new technology weakens all three attributes of active citizenship. The rise of social media, big data and artificial intelligence makes citizens prone to propaganda and ultimately less independent.
Artificial intelligence (AI), as it becomes more powerful with every passing day. Very soon, AI will be able to make decisions in many fields that are increasingly better, wiser and shrewder than ours. As a result, we shall increasingly doubt our abilities to make our own decisions and look to AI to decide for us.
Lately, millions of Brits used the app, iSideWith, in the last few elections, which told, whom to vote for based on one’s preferences outsourcing their judgment to an algorithm. We also know that information overload, and social media connectivity encourage divisiveness, remain loyal to one’s specific group which one finds on the net or can easily create. In Pakistan, look at the Facebook feeds and it is all about politics. Do every one is interested in politics? – Not. However, someone is paying for particular feeds.
For example, in 2016, while teaming with the Trump campaign, the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica determined that a preference for US-made automobiles strongly indicated a potential Trump voter. Thus, if someone had recently bought a Ford but had not voted in years, the campaign could tell that he was a potential voter. In this manner, Cambridge Analytica was able to help the campaign identify 13.5 million persuadable voters in 16 US states – thereby creating a roadmap of where to have rallies, knock on doors and what to advertise on television.
Various applications of technology are sharply increasing in marketplaces, and social media platforms are currently beyond government surveillance and interference. These virtual marketplaces allow the free flow of illegal products like drugs, cryptocurrencies, nude live streaming and child pornography. It is not only a challenge to the government but is shattering our entire social value system. Social media platforms enable users to spread hate speech, propaganda and illegal images in real time.
Experts say that cryptocurrencies are the future of international trade. Cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin pose threats to national governments. Thus, the government is becoming increasingly powerless to remove individuals from the blockchain network or even trace, let alone act against the users behind them. The government’s laws – and by extension, the government itself – will have become increasingly toothless, as criminals can bypass them so quickly.
Any responsible national government to survive needs to combat the ills of new technologies which are undermining it. Some of the measures involve governments reasserting their authority over the technology industry. For example, to limit the influence of big data, governments can exercise more oversight on the use of algorithms and data collection through any means including small business outlets. The government can introduce anti-trust legislation. Artificial intelligence (AI) may destroy middle-class jobs through the use of an algorithm and replacing the workforce by robots. Hence the government should encourage learning of artificial intelligence at far urgent pace in the colleges and universities.
The governments can issue their cryptocurrency or trade in the existing ones so that people could benefit from the technology at the same time government officials can oversee the transactions. The government should develop publicly owned and operated versions of digital services like What’s app, Uber, and even search engines if the big technical giants do not cooperate in sharing and safety of data.
Digital technology has brought undeniable benefits to humanity, but it also poses equally specific challenges to the governments. These challenges emerge from technologically driven social changes unfolding before our eyes –If left unchecked; not only the state control over its citizen would dilute, but the criminal activities including money laundering would multiply, election results manipulated and the social values seriously endangered.
Fortunately, there are steps that the Pakistan government can take to synchronize with the internet era and thereby withstand the winds of change.