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A Digital Dream

I had a strange dream the other day. It was all about internet going off for a few days. I thought of everything that is possibly dependent on the internet to function. I thought about several things including how I would survive as a “netpreneur”, a euphemism for a net entrepreneur.

Friends, we are now living in the exciting world of wired society, and every step and movement is decided by the digital platforms. That is slowly becoming a reality for all and not necessarily those in the higher echelons of life. The other day, I was told about a commotion in a retail bank since the employees in a local office could not draw their salaries as the net was continuously down for the last few days, obstructing the normal functioning of the bank. The manual book entry of credit and debit, I think, these days is resorted not even by the moneylenders. Net has entered into your private life with such closeness and proximity, whether one likes it or not.

Will that trend continue for an indefinite period? I am counting on those days when keeping a digital assistant like Alexa becomes a style statement like having an elegant and efficient secretary. Your shadowing digital companion can be an eyesore to everyone in the office or household since they can start commanding and demanding things and materials from people who are supposed to obey its master. I shudder to think of a time when your shadow becomes recalcitrant and starts misbehaving with you or anyone else, like what had happened in the Tamil blockbuster movie Ethiran, (which means body double) enacted by super stars Rajnikanth and Aishwarya Rai. That will be the time when your robot starts feeling like any other human being and you know what will be the consequences.

I am an incorrigible optimist and that way I do not think of the flipside of any development. In my pursuit for excellence, I do not want to visualize or imagine computer turning to be your enemy for I believe that every innovation is a cumulative accretion of knowledge and the main task of that discovery is to serve the humanity – and not to destruct it.

Where does the chain break? That happens only when selfishness gets accumulated and beautiful brains get convoluted by hatred, hegemonic outburst and selfish pursuits. Compounded by the lure of money and position, mankind uses knowledge to control the world, manipulate the orderly life and suppress people with whom he does not share any bond or emotional chord. That gets precipitated in different forms: war, genocide, friction and so on. The common thread that passes through such emotional discord is hatred coupled with dishonesty. Technology and knowledge will get compromised in evolving tools of destruction.

It is our responsibility to help permeate the fruits of development to the common man. While the developed world and to a great extent the emerging economies are taking advantage of the benefits of the unfolding digital economy, there is a large number of people spread across regions like Africa, Southeast Asia which are cut off from the digital revolution.

Does it have a shade of exploitation? Many tend to feel so. Those who can manipulate and indulge in unholy practices could move faster than others. It also brought another dilemma that those who are cut off from technology and accumulation of knowledge were bypassed by the growth process. That is the flipside of the growth process triggered by digital growth. The question then boils down to what we should do to mitigate the so-called fault lines of digital revolution. The digital fraternity should come around first to hawk knowledge to people and societies, which are not stakeholders in the process. This cannot be forced on the people and the society. Whosoever wants to be a stakeholder in the digital process, it is the bounden duty of the IT fraternity to reach out to them and create an ecosystem for them to be a partner in progress.

Telemedicine and mobile telephony have scripted paradigm shifts in treating people. People living in far-flung areas can be treated through virtual medium even if the doctor and patient are separated by long distances. The use of mobile telephony comes handy for monitoring the day-to-day conditions of the patient. For extending these facilities to the common man, it is not necessary that they should be computer- or digital-savvy. The leaders and digital experts can take these facilities to them. A community which is exposed to these environments gradually gets integrated to the system.

Now there is a raging debate about the unmindful digitization or automation. Incremental interventions of micro chips, sensors, artificial intelligence, robotics, et al have reduced the role of human beings in carrying out different avocations. For instance, the entire banking operations at lower levels can be replaced by machines fitted with artificial intelligence. Robots can undertake most of the activities carried out by men. Even in developed countries where there is a labour shortage, citizens are wary about such pernicious developments. They are concerned what would happen to them if machines take care of their role or their next generation’s roles.

Who can take a call on what is good for the humanity? It should be a joint decision of all –governments, industry and civil society. Profiteering at the cost of an egalitarian society is not only immoral but also sinister because its backlash will be heavy and everyone will have to pay the price.