Valley News – Column: Being Human and Boosting Intelligence

Publication date: 7/30/2022 8:00:13 PM

Modified date: 7/30/2022 7:57:03 PM

I am not a techno-romantic person. But I do believe that technology can solve our most complex problems even though it can sometimes raise legal, ethical and social issues. Climate change, reproductive freedoms, school safety, indiscriminate gun violence and other mysteries require technologically innovative solutions. When policy experts and lawmakers are at odds, technology may come to our rescue.

Humans will not be replaced, but their multifaceted capabilities can be enhanced through technologies with embedded intelligence systems. Just think how NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope gave us a glimpse into the early universe with its sharp, deep infrared images. We don’t know what impact, if any, it will have on our daily lives but there is no doubt that more than the political drama being played out in the Capitol, our future is being determined by technologies including Information Communication Technology (ICT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) Nanotechnology, space technology, biotechnology, and quantum computing.

There is no end game in technology. Gunpowder, the printing press, the steam engine, the telegraph, the Internet, the mobile phone, for example, were determinants of history.

The disruptive potential of technology in societies should not be underestimated. In the early days of globalization, for example, technology pushed jobs abroad to take advantage of cheap skilled labor. Capitalism loves cheap labour. But jobs in the future will not be lost in countries with cheap skilled labor, but because of networked systems with integrated human-machine intelligence, which requires a new type of skilled workforce, people who can work with semi-autonomous intelligent systems.

And no one is more eager to develop intelligent smart systems than the US Army’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to reduce the military’s first response capabilities and keep the nation as out of danger as possible. They call it the Early Awareness System (EAS), which is different from the Early Warning System (EWS). In EAS, you visualize and calculate the probabilities of developments that may occur, anticipate events that may occur, and take appropriate proactive measures. On the other hand, in EWS, you are dealing with developments that have already taken place. The concept of first response capabilities based on embedded intelligence and early awareness system is to find applications in business, law enforcement and counter-terrorism.

Technologies are rarely stand-alone in this age of digital networks. They have re-engagement potential and tend to converge with others to form new technologies, which can be used in ways that the original inventors could not have imagined. A new world emerges from the sensory environment in which nothing will remain in isolation from the outside world. Based on the convergence of sensors and smart technologies, law enforcement and counterterrorism experts deal with terrorism, among other problems, in very different and possibly more effective ways.

The interior of future aircraft will be embedded with sensors that record and transmit any unusual activity to the monitoring and control center for preventive action. Scientists at QinetiQ, a commercial branch of the British Ministry of Defense, have developed a working model of an aircraft seat integrated with a sensor capable of capturing signals of physiological changes in a passenger and relaying the information to a cockpit display. The signals could enable the system to analyze whether a person is a terrorist or someone with deep vein thrombosis, for example.

The smart seat will eventually be able to record the signs of any emotional stress the passenger feels during the flight. Hidden seat sensors will provide unobtrusive in-flight monitoring and have the ability to obtain actionable intelligence about activities including the health status of passengers on board. Most importantly, the information will enable the plainclothes guards to take precautionary measures in the event there is a risk that terrorists are considering bombing or hijacking the aircraft. The cockpit will become an anti-terror cell.

We are used to different types of intrusive searches at airports, banks and other places. We do not object to the collection of data in a smart environment if its purpose is to enhance security. We know that security cameras are on us. But we are not ashamed of being spied on when we go to an ATM or a bank teller to make a transaction. This is the price we pay for security, comfort and freedom. There can be no freedom without security. So maybe we wouldn’t mind sitting in a sensor train or bus if it takes us safely to our destination where we can enjoy all the privacy we want.

Aaah! But here’s the challenge. Can school buildings such as airplanes be transformed into smart systems for early education with embedded intelligence? We watched the horrific video of the Ovaldi, Texas school shooting in which the 18-year-old gunman walked free, killing 19 students and two teachers, and wounding 17 other people. If Robb Elementary School had been equipped with a built-in intelligence system for early awareness, the gunman would have been captured long before the massacre was committed.

The Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is sacred to most Americans, but it should not become a black hole absorbing all of our other cherished liberties.

Batra teaches at the University of Norwich Graduate School of Education. He is the author of several books including The First Freedoms, America’s Culture of Innovation, and most recently, India In A New Key: Nehru To Modi. He is writing a novel about the inhabitants of the Upper Valley.