Addressing Fears Around Smart Systems

The Economist Magazine concludes its recent 14-page special report “It’s a Smart World” (read the intro here) with a look at reasons why people fear smart systems. Number one on the list of unintended consequences is, of course, loss of privacy and increased government surveillance. We’ve known for some time that every action we take online leaves a digital footprint. Now, even our offline actions will be traced, thanks to smart systems.

Then there is the fear that smart systems can be hacked, or could even spin out of control, as Wall Street’s “flash crash” of last May demonstrates.

Some fear over-dependence on smart systems, as we increasingly defer decisions to computers. Humans simply can’t handle the huge amounts of data smart systems produce. Books like The Shallows by Nicholas Carr argue that the Internet is on the way to “smothering creativity and profound thinking”.

Yet another fear: smart systems may give rise to an information elite, and lead to greater inequalities, elimination of jobs, and jobless recoveries.

We can and should address these fears by keeping smart systems, and the conversations about them, transparent. And by maintaining control with democratic consensus.

How does your organization foster discussion and transparency around fears and resistance to smart systems?