Stuff's product director Fei Bian Goh discusses what keeps him up at night as a part of a series in conjunction with Tech Futures Lab.
What worries you the most about technology?
What excites you the most?
How it improves our understanding of life and the universe around us.
What’s your scariest prediction for the future?
That someone starts the doomsday clock without knowing or intending to do so. It’s not just that advancements in genetic science and artificial intelligence are happening so rapidly, but also the fact that it’s being democratised so broadly, that we have no way to know, predict or influence how and when someone might stumble on something that will set in a motion a non-reversible pathway to catastrophe.
In Eliezer Yudkowsky’s words, ‘there is no fire alarm for artificial general intelligence’. You can apply that to genetic science too.
If you could go back in time, what’s one technology advancement you would rave about to your great grandparents?
Explain the internet to them. Then show it to them on a phone. Then call the future just to blow their minds... and hope they don’t start making different life choices.
What do you think New Zealand will look like as a country in 2038?
I think we’ll continue to see increased diversity in our population along with growth. I hope we do well in protecting our environment and the natural beauty of the country, not just for tourism reasons but because it’s a magical thing that we’ve been given here.
What’s your social media usage like?
I browse to keep in touch with what’s happening but I don’t post a lot.
Do you try limit how much personal information is available about you online?
What will be dead in the next five years? (Products, companies, trends, etc.)
Unfettered and unmoderated content on social media. Possibly even unregulated social media.
What does your ideal robot look like?
It depends on what the robot’s purpose is, but in general I’d like robots to look like robots, not humans.
Will the robots become sentient and kill us all?
Robots don’t need to become sentient to kill us all. Those two things are mutually exclusive. Do I believe robots could kill us all? Yes. Do I believe they need to be sentient to do so? No.
How likely is it that we’re living in a simulation?
I think in the broadest sense of that question, we’re all living in some sort of simulation, to which the more important questions then become whose and for what purpose.
How far should we take human enhancement? (Bionic limbs, computer chips in brains, designer babies)
I don’t have the answer to this, but I do know it’s a question that society hasn’t been talking about enough and there are a few reasons for that. It’s not an easily accessible topic yet and people still think it’s science fiction stuff. Most don’t realise how malleable we are as human beings and that the technology to intervene, while rudimentary, is basically here. So it’s not a topic that’s really made its way into mainstream consciousness yet and the mainstream is distracted by other things in the news.
For my part, I see it as a question of how little or how much we should attempt to play God or to overrule nature. To some people, this might seem like a binary choice, but it really isn’t. There is a slope and there are shades of grey everywhere.
Designer babies might seem unthinkable. Like that’s an easy no. But what if the genetic technology that allows you to change the colour of your unborn baby’s eyes is the same as the one that can cure an unborn baby’s blindness or can improve poor eyesight?
Computer chips in brains might sound like an easy no, too. I mean, your brain is your brain. We’re not going to try an augment your intelligence, right? But two years ago, I heard about research on implanting chips in brains to correct how brain waves were being transmitted and received between neurons - they were trying to cure illnesses like Parkinsons. I’m not sure how far they got or are still going, but imagine if they were successful; we’d answer the question of chip implants in brains very differently.
The decision to correct or to enhance can really depend on one’s perspective and the context really does matter. But who will we allow to set the context here? Who gets that power? Who gets to tell us what our babies can or can’t be? When we’re talking about intervening at the biological level, who gets to decide what’s an enhancement that makes one better than intended rather than an enhancement that gets one back to normal? And if it’s ok to consistently intervene in the latter, do we not think that this will eventually raise the standards for the former?
So like I said. Slopes and shades of grey everywhere and it’s really a discussion about humankind for humankind.
What’s the best use of a chatbot you’ve seen?
I once saw a chatbot from ING (I think) which allows you to apply for a new credit card using Facebook Messenger. I thought that was pretty neat.
The best chatbot would probably be the Stuff Daily Trivia chatbot that we created for Facebook Messenger in one of our internal lab projects. I had quite a bit of fun with that one.
How would you feel about interacting with a chatbot fuelled by a deceased loved one’s texts and social media posts?
No. Just no.
What about being a part of a social credit system, Black Mirror style?
I quite liked that episode, actually. It tells the perfect story of why subjecting ourselves to the impulse ratings and judgements of others who no longer need to bother to get to know you is a bad, bad idea.
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To read what's keeping other industry folk awake at night, click here.