It’s no secret by now that ever since most of us are being sheltered in place there has been a run on gun stores throughout the country. A couple a miles from my home, for instance, the line in front of a gun store went around the block. Gun right activists and lobbying groups explain it as part of the essential services which attend to survival. If I understand their argument, it is not enough to have groceries one must also have a gun in order to feel safe. In fact some of these groups have petitioned the White House and other parts of the federal government to declare gun stores essential businesses not subject to closure during the current shutdowns. Different states have applied different standards, Pennsylvania has upheld the right to bear arms, so has New Mexico. In California the governor has delegated the power to local sheriffs and in several counties gun shops have been closed.
It ought to be predictable that gun rights groups would link guns with being essential and with safety, it is nevertheless disturbing. The issue of safety is of course moot, because to someone like me safety means less guns, gun stores closure, and it certainly entails not equating guns to groceries as a means of survival. The argument linking guns to safety may underlines our divide, still illustrating how far the gun lobbies are willing to go is a necessity.
Please Note: The Corona virus crisis is changing so much of our lives, we need certain things to continue as they are, and so we are.
In Maduro’s Venezuela one out of every three is malnourished and hungry, among those who may be considered more middle class it’s one in five. In Northern Syria, there are over 900,000 people caught in the war there, and 13 million Syrians have already been displaced. The near one million refugees have no place to go, no one to turn to. It’s been so cold, several children have frozen to death. In Kashmir, the government continues its limited Internet access and other restrictions against the mainly Muslim state, not to speak of the recent riots in New Delhi which is causing many to flee because Muslims are no longer wanted in those areas. In China the Muslim Uighurs are being put in so called reeducation camps for the slightest action, such as growing a beard. In Yemen war rages, in Libya, anarchy continues, in several countries, refugees keep coming and find no refuge, no let up to their angst and difficulties, no escape from poverty, sometimes no way to survive. I could go on about the suffering of the world, and yes these are man-made problems, and because they are man-made they are even harder to resolve, because the human imperfections that caused them still exist. There may be very little we can do, but we can remember these lives, learn from their courage, their fortitude, be inspired by how they endure and handle their suffering, be humbled by their strength and bravery and most of all remember them because their problems dwarf ours no matter how serious ours may be.
Two authors well versed in the state of the world and the state of technology give a yearly list of how they see the top ten technology policy issues facing us. The list is meant to refer to challenges before us as well as challenges technology could address. Given a new decade, this year’s list applies to the 20’s as a decade.
- Defending Democracy
- Privacy in an AI Era
- Data and National Sovereignty
- Digital Safety
- Internet Inequality
- A Tech Cold War
- Ethics for Artificial Intelligence
- Jobs and Income Inequality in an AI Economy
One may disagree with the placement of some of these
challenges, such as jobs and income inequality but it is difficult not to agree
with the items on the list being important. While many of these challenges are self-explanatory,
I needed to review their explanation of the journalism item. If I may
paraphrase, it is a profession crucial to the survival of democracy whose lower
profits over time have caused a decline. The authors hope that technology can foster
a revival that will help not only to protect journalists who have been under
attack (particularly overseas where journalists can too easily be jailed) but for
the whole field.
Because technology has now infiltrated every aspect
of our lives, directly or indirectly, the list as a whole has great relevance
in in determining our future and shaping needed answers. What is a concern,
though, is how little these issues are being acknowledged and addressed by
Not long ago a Republican congressman posted a picture of Barak Obama shaking the hand of the Iranian head of state, a meeting that never happened. This kind of face substitution is something that is now becoming not only available but also rather easy to do. With the social media app Tik Tok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, both owned by the same parent company Byte Dance, Face Swap is either being thought about or being introduced, sometimes surreptitiously. Byte Dance who says Face Swap is mainly meant for Douyin also says it is meant to be used for fun, that placing a face, presumably that of the user, on another video or image could be amusing. But that means that the app would have data on the user’s face and could use it ostensibly for its own purposes, and thus, as it did with the Obama picture, be used to spread misinformation. There is another important issue, what would Byte Dance as well as the social media apps do with all the data they would collect?
It all begs a big question, how are we to know what
is real? That is as far as I can see one of the biggest challenges before us,
and to my mind one of the biggest danger for the future. As a culture, our
propensity to put appearances first will surely keep us from questioning what
we see. Our tendency to gravitate towards knowledge emanating from soundbites will reinforce that propensity,
and our general need for comfort will act as a brake to go deeper and probe
what we are seeing to hopefully look for the signs that will open the door to
the truth—or falsity—we are looking at. Obviously, our culture is moving
headlong into these new areas of technology. And perhaps if we could learn to become more
aware of how quickly we can mistake the
unreal for the real and untruths for facts, we could make a small step, albeit
a very small one, towards the health of our future.