How to NOT Lose the Human Touch

By Anica Lanzi
Social Connectedness Fellow 2018

The division between life and non-life is perhaps an artificial one” [1]

Spike Jonze’s latest movie, Her, captures that late night feeling of loneliness better than most  other films .  The protagonist, heartbroken after his marriage ends, develops a relationship with his operating system (OS) which is designed to meet his every need. Theodore’s love affair with his OS raises important questions about society’s relationship with technology and artificial intelligence; are they replacing real human contact? Do they cause social isolation? The first thing we do when that feeling of solitude lingers over our pillow is grab our laptop or phone and aimlessly scroll to distract us from our real thoughts.

For me, it was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984  that first gave a fatalistic tone to humanity’s technological advancements. A decade ago a series of studies came out claiming a link between excessive internet use and  depression . [2] Years later,  the studies were on how Artificial Intelligence risks replacing people and surpassing human intelligence, and now it’s the Drone Age that raises some important questions.

Two months ago, Time magazine published a special report called ‘The Drone Age’. They wrote about the many ways in which companies are experimenting with drones that could dramatically change entire industries. “Amazon is working on drones that could deliver packages within minutes, technology that could one day be used for time-sensitive health emergencies,” the author stated. [3]

Like all technological breakthroughs, this raises both possibilities and concerns. “Privacy advocates are worried about the unchecked growth of aerial surveillance. Drones have been used to smuggle drugs into prisons, and the US military Is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to develop methods to prevent them from becoming terrorists’ weapon of choice.” [2] However, if we learn how to design and use these new technologies responsibly then they can drastically improve human life. 

As computers seep more and more into our daily life, we need to learn how to apply philosophical and ethics-based skills to the development and management of technology. Language, art, history, philosophy, psychology and human development courses will become critical.

There are  two Montreal-based businesses that promote sustainable development through robotic techniques. The first is ALTA robotiques, which uses AI technology and drones to identify problem areas on farmer’s land and quickly address the issue. They also use their drones for the aerial mapping of arable surfaces and decide what crops are best suited to the mapped land.

The second business is ‘Humanitas Solutions’ which delivers technologies to empower field workers. They call their drones Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and provide them for a variety of purposes: agriculture, law enforcement, inspection of structures, security monitoring, aerial photography and much more.

The organization primarily aims to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian agencies on the ground and deliver technology to isolated environments during humanitarian emergencies, such as in refugee camps or areas stricken by natural disasters. Their goal is for  major organizations like the Red Cross, as well other security organizations such as the police and military, to buy their product.

As the sky above gets busier, we need to embrace these changes effectively and continue to consider ethics and rights when advancing technology.

 [1] + First Image: Cowan, Katy. “New York designer Janet Chan’s typographic book on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence.” May 8th , 2017. https://www.creativeboom.com/inspiration/new-york-designer-janet-chans-typographic-book-on-the-ethics-of-artificial-intelligence/

[2] Morrison, CM. “The relationship between excessive Internet use and depression: a questionnaire-based study of 1,319 young people and adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20110764

[3] Fitzpatrick, Alex. “Drones Are Here to Stay. Get Used to It.” May 31st, 2018. Time Magazine. http://time.com/longform/time-the-drone-age/