What might nongovernmental organizations, governments and world leaders have done differently if, fifteen years ago, they could have predicted the transformative effect that mobile phones and Internet access would have on the world’s poorest countries? What can we do now, if we look far enough down the road, to anticipate the next waves of revolutionary technology?
Technology has brought us to the doorstep of a world once only imaginable. Google cars now drive themselves across California. An autonomously piloted drone can be purchased on Amazon.com. Computers are acting more and more like people. This year, one passed the Turing test, a measurement of a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. There are working prototypes of spray-on skin and mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. A thousand robots can work together to complete a common task. Things are changing fast.
These technologies will shape the future of the world and change development as we know it.
Funders, governments, practitioners and technology leaders need to anticipate the impact of emerging innovations on democracy and human rights and plan accordingly. Technology can empower activists and dictators alike. To be prepared, we should start asking questions, such as: How will development and civic engagement change when citizens in the most remote parts of the world have access to the Internet? How might drone journalism provide safe, reliable access to conflict-affected parts of the world? How can wearable technology innovations like Google Glass make citizens freer or, conversely, be misused by governments to monitor and control citizens?