Are we waiting for a digital pandemic or are we preparing?

File image.

File image.

Published Jun 27, 2023


By Edwin Weijdema

Johannesburg - For several months now, reports of ChatGPT and Generative AI have been flying around our ears. Certainly not a bad thing. This way transparency is created that will allow us to understand what is coming our way.

As with cybersecurity and ransomware, we should not be blind to the risks and everything that needs to happen around this new technology. Fortunately, fear is not necessary anywhere. We already went through this. More than once. And we survived every time.

From ChatGPT to a robot dog frolicking through the living room, artificial intelligence is really starting to make its mark on wider society. On the one hand, this presents enormous opportunities. Think, for example, of the medical sector where nanobots or tiny robots are about to save human lives. But on the other hand, we must also dare to ask the question: Who will be responsible if things go wrong with AI? The party that programmed the system? The supplier of the tool? The end user? Or a combination of all three?

We must dare to think about the impact technology is having on our society. Unfortunately, humans have never been good at change and we prefer to stick our heads in the sand. Until something effectively impacts our personal lives. Compare it to the way we use backup. At first there was awareness that backup is important, but no one wanted to pay for it. Until ransomware suddenly became ubiquitous and organisations understood that good backup should be at the front of the security chain. AI technology may also gradually move up in that chain.

Edwin Weijdema. Supplied image.

Prepare, respond and recover

So how should we deal with technological developments that have the potential to completely reshape the way we work? Actually, we already know the answer, because we experienced it all before. We can even speak of a cycle that occurs when we unleash a new invention or technology on the world. Almost everything is developed with the intention of doing good, yet we see that there always comes a time when someone starts abusing a solution. Gunpowder was once invented with the best of intentions until people discovered they could blow things up with it. Advanced IT applications allow companies to generate more business, until hackers see an opportunity to spread ransomware through these channels. AI systems do revolutionary things, until things go wrong because bias crept into the solution.

When we introduce new technology, we go through the same three-step process every time. First, we try to prepare as best we can. In the next step, we react to the problems that arise. And finally, we fix what went wrong. For example, you can't completely stop a hacker with any security tool, but you can limit the damage by slowing down the attack and pushing it in another direction.

The faster we come full circle, the sooner we can take advantage of the positive impact technology has on our lives.

Avoiding a digital pandemic

So proper preparation is essential. And for that, transparency is necessary. If we know what is happening in the market and what changes are coming, we can better anticipate them and develop a policy or legislation. Transparency is the best defence for building something in a sustainable way. Usually the pieces of the puzzle are in different parties and we need to bring together as many perspectives as possible.

Also, both in business and politics, it is important that we put people with the right technical background in those places where decisions are made. Or that leaders and policymakers are surrounded by experts with the right expertise. Not coincidentally, technology giants are the most successful companies in the world today. They are run by people with a vision of the future and a perspective that inspires others.

Just as health experts were suddenly sitting in news studios daily during the Covid era, filling newspapers and influencing decisions, digital technology experts must now assume their role to prepare our society and companies. Only proper preparation can prevent our society from soon falling into a digital pandemic. After all, we are facing the greatest innovation since the Industrial Revolution.

In every revolution humanity has experienced, we didn't know what to do at first. Yet each time we got out of it. Now we have the advantage of being better prepared because we already know a piece of the process. And the rest? Let's discover that together.