Trust in tech to benefit mankind

Frank Shen, Huawei
Frank Shen, Huawei

Common-sense governance is key to overcoming fear of innovation

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5 May 2020 | 0

In association with Huawei

Throughout human history, from the weaving machines of the industrial revolution to the smartphone, mechanization has prompted concerns that technology will make people redundant or alter society in unsettling ways. Today’s greatest fears, from loss of employment to the end of civilisation, centre on robots, digitisation, and artificial intelligence. More recently, some have even tried to link 5G and the spread of the coronavirus. People tend to project the highest level of fear on things they depend on but that they don’t have any control over or that they don’t fully understand.

Fears tend to reflect the news cycle. Too often, politically motivated campaigns influence public opinion. Not surprisingly, leading tech companies aren’t seen as resources and services that can empower local businesses but rather as opaque behemoths invading foreign countries, destroying traditional industries. This kind of anti-tech populism is not only intellectually lazy but also dangerous as it raises costs, threatens jobs, and risks the competitiveness of entire industries. Instead, our attitude toward technology, how we employ it and how we govern it, should be based on facts, not emotions.

 

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Past dystopian scenarios that depicted a dark future where technology exists in the public realm only as a tool for the elite to control society and increase their riches, did not come true. Then, why are we so focused on temporary challenges even when all signs point to positive development? Because the human brain is wired to focus on the bad. In Psychology, this inherent preference for the bad is referred to as the ‘negativity effect’. In ancient times, in dangerous circumstances, this negative effect is certainly a useful survival mechanism. But in modern times, the benefits of this intuition are less obvious, and its drawbacks are becoming more apparent. While the negativity effect is continually exploited by some of the journalists, politicians, and activists, leading to a never-ending series of hyped threats that needlessly alarm people and produce policies that benefit few while hurting everybody else.

We’re often told about the ‘good old days’. But were they really that good? On the surface, they appear to be so – especially the period to which this term is most often applied, the years from the end of the mid-19th Century to the early 1900s. However, this period of history has receded into a benevolent haze. The good old days were good for the privileged few. For the farmer, the labourer, the average person, life was an unremitting hardship. This segment of the populace was exploited or lived in the shadow of total neglect with limited or no prospect of improving their station in life. Not least by technology, large parts of society were helped out of poverty by improving access to higher education, public health, and closing the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Once we recognise our negativity bias, the rational brain can overcome the power of bad when it’s harmful and employ that power when it’s beneficial. Throughout human history, the benefits of technology have demonstrably outweighed the harm. Even with the most disruptive and dangerous technologies, through common-sense governance, we have created policies and cooperative mechanisms to manage them. Ultimately, we should and can use technology to help ensure a better environment and bring greater benefits to society as a whole.

Huawei is encouraged by the actions of European lawmakers who have always shown this type of common-sense approach when dealing with new technologies. We agree with the EU Commission’s recent decision that a diverse vendor market and fair competition are essential for network reliability and innovation, as well as ensuring consumers have access to the best possible technology. Huawei has supplied cutting-edge technology to telecoms operators in Europe for more than two decades. Building on this strong track record, we will continue to support our customers as they invest in their 5G networks, boosting economic growth and helping Europe continue to compete globally.

Digital technology is reshaping our lives. We will soon enter an intelligent world where new opportunity is almost boundless. As we begin to explore the order and rules of this new space, however, a great cloud of political mistrust and uncertainty looms over us. Technology is neither inherently good nor evil. It is always up to us to leverage technology to benefit mankind. We at Huawei are tech-positive. Huawei believes in creating greater value for our customers and society and aim to bring digital to every person, home and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world.

Frank Shen is vice president of PACD, Western Europe, for Huawei Technologies

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