5 Technologies You Should Be Afraid Of

In the spirit of Halloween, we take a look at a few technologies that, despite all of their promise, could yield terrifying results.
  • Believe it or not there are scarier things than the Singularity.

    While many of today's emerging technologies hold a great deal of promise, left unchecked many of them should scare us just as much as, if not more than, they excite us. Certainly there are the obvious things, military drones, killer robots, and car hacking, but there are also other innovations, some just around the corner, that could make our futures quite dark if we don't pay attention.

    Enjoy your Halloween and look at five technologies you really should be afraid of.

    Click through the image above to start the slideshow.

  • AI for Creating Fake News

    Forget the doomsday scenarios of the Singularity, AI has the potential to create an even more frightening outcome today – the creation and dissemination of false information. AI can enable fake news to go beyond text and into the realm of images and even video, creating what some have coined “counterfeit reality.”

    At SIGGRAPH 2017 a team of researchers from the University of Washington demonstrated that it is possible to train a neural network to recognize mouth shapes and sounds and to then use that data to create high-quality, photorealistic synthesized video of a person speaking the audio of an unrelated sound clip. The researchers illustrated this with a very powerful point – having President Barack Obama speak words from his previous speeches. The implications are clear, with some clever audio editing and enough video footage you could create a video of a powerful figure saying anything you want them to.

    Experts have said that just as AI can be used to create counterfeit reality it can also be used to detect it. However, at the recent Gartner symposium, Daryl Plummer, vice president and Gartner Fellow, Distinguished, predicted that the fake content will outpace our ability to detect it. “Unfortunately, as the creation of counterfeit reality using AI techniques has accelerated in recent years, using AI to detect counterfeit reality currently lags behind the use of AI to create it,” Plummer said.   

    [Image source: Supasorn Suwajanakorn, Steven M. Seitz, Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, University of Washington]

  • Augmented Reality

    Augmented reality has a lot going for it, particularly in the enterprise space. But if you think pop up ads are annoying when you visit your favorite website, just wait until advertisers get ahold of AR. Accidents related to Pokemon Go are just the tip of the iceberg for the level of distraction AR can create.

    Don't believe us? Check out this conceptual short-film that imagines a world of AR gone amok. What should be a helpful interface for real-time information access could very easily turn into a hellscape of sensory overload and endless targeted marketing.  

    [Image source: Keiichi Matsuda | km.cx ] 

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces

    Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) show a lot of promise. For consumers and enterprise it could lead to the next wave of device control – a world in which our thoughts replace a mouse, keyboard, and touchscreen. BCIs pose particularly exciting applications in medtech, where they can be used to allow the disabled to control devices and even prosthetic and robotic limbs using their brainwaves.

    Now there is a newer arena of BCI research opening up that is even more exciting, but equally as frightening. Most BCI communication is one-way, going from the user to the computer. You think something, the machine does it. But now researchers are working to develop two-way BCIs, ones in which the machine sends signals back to the brain. DARPA recently awarded grants to several university research groups and organizations under its Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program aimed at developing “an implantable neural interface able to provide advanced signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the brain and electronics.”

    If successful, efforts like NESD could lead to a whole new way of understanding the biology of the human brain as well as new treatments for patients with a variety of neurological disorders.

    It also creates a direct line into the human brain. The seminal anime film Ghost in the Shell already gave us a glimpse of a future in which brains can be hacked, creating illusory worlds around their victims. Just watch this scene and try not to let the fear set in as you imagine this happening to you.

    Sure, it's not possible yet, but who knows, it could be. One must also consider that this two-way communication will allow AI and machine learning algorithms to understand us perhaps even better than we understand them. We've already seen AI beating us at some of the world's most complex games. What will happen if the machines decide to start programming us for a change?  

    [Image source: Manga Entertainment]

  • IoT Surveillance

    The Internet of Things (IoT) is upon us. And if it lives up to its promise it'll bring a slew of whole new conveniences and innovations into our lives. For those invested in IoT, the goal is to someday reach a point at which one trillion sensors are distributed throughout the world.

    But each of those sensors will be collecting some sort of data on us and without proper regulations those trillion sensors could become a trillion Big Brothers. A world in which you can track everything has some definite possibilities for the greater good, but it also easily crosses into Minority Report territory, in which the government can track your every move.

    Think it won't happen? It's already happening. In China, where privacy laws are more lenient than in the US, facial recognition technology has already been implemented into many of the nation's security and traffic cameras. China has embraced facial recognition like none other. Chinese KFC restaurants can use facial recognition to predict customers' orders and China South Airlines has used facial recognition in place of boarding passes.

    Just this past September Chinese authorities were able to arrest 25 wanted criminals, all of whom were spotted via facial recognition cameras at a beer festival.

    It all sounds okay when its turned on the bad guys, but imagine if more countries follow China's lead without proper legislation and cyber security in place. Thanks to the IoT we might someday be longing for a time when our social media was the biggest worry about our privacy. 

    [Image source: Pixabay]

  • Life Extension

    Being healthy is great and people are finding all sorts of new ways to live better and longer – from basics like exercise and better sleep to innovations and fads like ketogenic diets and even experimenting with smart drugs. It's all designed with one goal in mind: extending the human life span. Some anti-aging theorists already believe the first humans who will be able to live over 1,000 years have already been born.

    But there's a dark side to life extension, as well. It could be used to create harsher punishments for criminals. Writing for the University of Oxford blog, Practical Ethics, Rebecca Roache a professor of philosophy at the University of London best cautioned against life extension writing:

    “In cases where a 30-year life sentence is judged too lenient, convicted criminals could be sentenced to receive a life sentence in conjunction with lifespan enhancement. As a result, life imprisonment could mean several hundred years rather than a few decades. It would, of course, be more expensive for society to support such sentences. However, if lifespan enhancement were widely available, this cost could be offset by the increased contributions of a longer-lived workforce.”

    Imagine the ladies of Orange is the New Black serving centuries-long prison sentences and the show becomes a lot less enjoyabe.  

    [Image source: Pixabay]



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Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at  Design News  covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.

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