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Consequences

Dr. Peter Bishop

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The Age of Robots Magazine reports on the latest developments in science and technology that will have significant implications for life in the future. Futurists call these developments “scanning hits” or “weak signals”. Just like lookouts or scouts, futurists scan the horizon for signs of change—events or new pieces of information that could change the future. These hits are usually weak, however, since they are generally not powerful enough to change the future right away. Strong signals, on the other hand, leave no doubt that they are changing the future as we speak, be they trends like climate change or more powerful AI, or events like 9-11.

Whether strong or weak, these signals have consequences, and that is what this new column is about. We all know the obvious consequences. A new home test kit for kidney nephritis means fewer trips to the hospital and better monitoring for those with that condition. But is that all? Marshall McLuhan pointed out that consequences come in various ways, particularly positive ones that improve some capability we have or even create new capabilities and negative ones that diminish or even eliminate others. What is more, he claimed that every change has some of both. Most people are prone to think about the positive contributions of technology and less so of the neutral or even negative consequences. As a result, futurists are doing their job when they point out both. But they are often criticized for only talking about the negative since most people are initially thinking positively about technology. The futurists purpose is not to be excessively negative, but to temper over-optimism with a little dose of something else.

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