Carly Burns of UOW Interviews Katina Michael

1. What are you working on in 2018?

Always working on lots and lots of things at once.

 Carly Burns, UOW Research

Carly Burns, UOW Research

  • Socio-ethical approaches to robotics and artificial intelligence development and corresponding implications for humans
  • Tangible and intangible risks associated with bio-implantables for the medical and non-medical fields
  • Ongoing two-factor authentication requirements despite the aggressive rollout of biometrics (especially facial recognition and behavioural systems)
  • Wearable cameras and corresponding visual analytics and augmented reality capabilities in law enforcement
  • Blockchain registers and everyday transactional data flows in finance, education, and health
  • Social media pitfalls and technology dependencies, screens and addictions
  • Unauthorised and covert tracking technologies, location information sharing, crowdsourcing and notions of transparency
  • Defining uberveillance at the operational layer with respect to the internet of things and human rights
  • At the heart of my research is the interplay of engineering, law, policy and society.

2. In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the most innovative or exciting things emerging over the next few years?

  • Exoskeletons in humans, transputation (humans opting for non-human parts), and the ability to do things that were once considered ‘superhuman’ (e.g. carrying 2-3 times one’s body weight, or extending human height through artificial limbs).
  • Brain to computer interfaces to help the disabled with basic accessibility of communications and everyday fundamental necessities (e.g. feeding oneself). However, breakthroughs in this space will quickly be adopted by industry for applications in a variety of areas, with the primary focus being entertainment and search services.
  • Smart drug delivery (either embedded/swallowable/injectable) pill and chip solutions that allows remote health systems to monitor your drug taking behaviours, daily exercise routines, and wander/fall-down alerts. 
  • An electronic pacemaker the size of a AAA battery (or smaller) acting as the hub for body area networks, akin to a CPU in a computer, allowing for precision medicine and read-write rights to a world built on the Internet of Things ideology.
  • Personal AI services: consider this the rise of a new kind of personal Internet. Services that will be able to gather content and provide for you thought-specific level data when you need it. Your life as one long reality-TV episode, captured, ready for playback in visual or audio, adhering to private-public space differentials. Captured memories and spoken word will be admissible evidence in a future e-court, but also available for new job opportunities. The tacit becomes capturable and can help you get your next job. 

3. In regards to your field of study or expertise what are some of the things readers should be cautious/vary of over the next few years?

  • The technology we are being promised will get very personal and trespass privacy rights. Whereby in 1984 we were assured that at least the contents of our brain were private, today behavioural biometrics alongside detailed transactional data, can provide some level of proactive profile of everyday consumers. Retaining anonymity is difficult, some would say near impossible. We have surveillance cameras and smart phones and watches that track our every movement, smartTVs that watch us in our homes, IOT devices that do motion detection and human activity monitoring in private spaces, and social media that has the capacity to store instantaneous thoughts and images and multimedia across contexts. This loss of privacy will have psychological impacts and fallout, whether it be in increasing rates of mental illness, or in the room we require to develop as human beings, that right to learn and reflect from our mistakes in private. Humans are increasingly becoming decorporealised. We are fast becoming bits of bytes. Companies see us not as holistic customers any longer, but pieces of transactional data, as we are socially sorted based on our capacity to part with our dollar, and the influence measure we have on our peer groups.
  • The paperless/cashless paradigm is gathering momentum. It has many benefits to organisations and government and especially to our environment. But this has major implications for auditability, so-named transparency, the potential for corrupt practices to be instituted by skilled security hackers, and the need for traceability. Organisational workflows that go paperless will place increasing pressure on staff and administration, triggering a workplace of mere compliance (and tick boxing) as opposed to real thinking and assurance. The cashless part will lead to implicit controls on how money is spent by minority groups (e.g. disabled, pensioners, unemployed). This will no doubt impact human freedom, and fundamentally rights to choice.
  • Over-reliance on wearable and implantable technologies for a host of convenience, care and control solutions. Technology will provide a false sense of security and impact on fundamental values of trust in human relationships. More technology does not mean a better life, for some it will mean a dysfunctional life as they wrestle with what it means to be human.
  • It is questionable whether living longer means we age better. Because we are living longer, illnesses like dementia and cancer are increasing at an increasing rate. How do we cope with this burden when it comes to aged care? Send in the robots?
  • We have already seen robots (e.g. Sophia) be recognised as a citizen of Saudi Arabia, before fundamental women’s rights have been conclusively recognised in the same state. Robots and their proposed so-called sentience will likely receive special benefits that humans do not possess. Learning to live with these emerging paradigms will take some getting used to- new laws, new policies, new business models. Do robots have rights? And if so, do they supersede those of human rights? What will happen when “machines start to think” and make decisions (e.g. driverless cars)? 

4. Where do you believe major opportunities lie for youth thinking about future career options?

  • This is pretty simple, although I am biased, it is “all things digital”. If I was doing a degree today, I would be heading into biomedical engineering, neuroethics and cybersecurity. On the flip-side of this, I see the huge importance of young people thinking about social services in the very “human” sense. While we are experimenting with brain implants for a variety of illnesses, including for the treatment of major depressive disorder, and DNA and brain scanning technologies for early detection, I would say the need for counsellors (e.g. genetic) and social workers will only continue to increase. We need health professionals and psychologists and psychiatrists who get “digital” problems: a sense of feeling overwhelmed with workloads, with the speed that data travels (instantaneous communications), etc. Humans are analog, computers are digital. This cross-road will cause individuals great anxiety. It is a paradox. We’ve never had it so good in terms of working conditions, and yet we seem to have no end to social welfare and mental health problems in our society. 
  • At the same time the world is advancing in communications, and life expectancy continues to grow in most economic systems, an emphasis on food security, seeking renewable energy sources that do not create more problems than they solve, biodiversity and climate change is much needed. What good is the most advanced and super networked world, if population pressures and food security practices are not being ascertained, alongside rising sea levels that cause significant losses? We should not only be using our computing powers to model and predict changes that are inevitable to the geophysical properties of the earth, but to implement longer term solutions. 

 
5.       In regards to your field of expertise, what is the best piece of advice you could offer to our readers?

  • The future is what we make of it. While computers are helping us to translate better and to advance once remote villages, I advocate for the preservation of culture and language, music and dance and belief systems. In diversity there is richness. Some might feel the things I’ve spoken about above are hype, others might advocate them as hope, and still others might say this well is their future if they have anything to do with it. Industry and government will dictate continual innovation as being in the best interest of any economy, and I don’t disagree with this basic premise. But innovation for what and for whom? We seem to be sold the promises of perpetual upgrades on our smartphones and likely soon our own brains through memory enhancement options. It will be up to consumers to opt-out of the latest high tech gadgetry, and opt-in to a sustainable future. We should not be distracted by the development of our own creations, rather use them to ensure the preservation of our environment and healthier living. Many are calling for a re-evaluation of how we go about our daily lives. Is the goal to live forever on earth? Or is it to live the good life in all its facets? And this has to do our human values, both collectively and individually.